With its uncharacteristic three-game losing streak in the rearview mirror, it's time for Real Salt Lake to get down to business.
"Every game that we go into now is going to be big. It's the second half of the season. We want to get as many points as we can. Yeah it's midseason, but there's really no time for goof-ups anymore," said keeper Nick Rimando.
Those "goof-ups" led to the three-game slide, dropping RSL into second place in the West behind the San Jose Earthquakes. Now, however, Real Salt Lake is in perfect position to atone for those mistakes and reclaim the best record in MLS when it travels to face San Jose this Saturday.
The Earthquakes have already beat RSL twice this year, but their cushion atop the standings is only one point.
As far as July matches go, Saturday's 8:30 p.m. (MDT) kickoff at Buck Shaw Stadium is about as big as it gets.
"I'm really, really up for it. I'm hopeful all the guys feel the same way as me. I feel like the last match here and the match there, both had some really odd stuff going on in those games. I feel we have a statement to make," said coach Jason Kreis.
In the first meeting in April, despite suffering two red cards, Real Salt Lake was just minutes away from earning an impressive tie. The 'Quakes, who've made a habit of scoring late goals, responded by scoring twice in stoppage time for the 3-1 win.
In the rematch at Rio Tinto Stadium three weeks ago, MLS-leading scorer Chris Wondolowski scored in the 84th minute to lead San Jose to the 2-1 victory.
"If Wondolowski is free in your box anywhere within 12 yards of the goal between the posts, then you've got problems because he's not a mystery to anybody," said Kreis. "We've played against him enough times that if he is free then we've made a major error."
Chris Wingert was the defensive culprit on Wondolowski's game-winner in Utah, and he's still kicking himself for allowing the striker to get that half step on him in the box.
"We need to prove to ourselves that we can go in there and beat a good team at their place," said Wingert.
San Jose is 6-0-3 in its last nine games at Buck Shaw Stadium, but it hasn't played a game at its cozy stadium in eight weeks. One of those wins was against RSL, but coach Kreis' team has traditionally played well at Buck Shaw Stadium, winning in 2010 and 2011 before dropping the wild double red-card game back in April.
Coming off back-to-back shutouts at home against Seattle and Portland, Kreis said there's no reason Real Salt Lake can't continue that trend in San Jose.
"It's always going to be a question of whether or not the guys are really bought into how we defend, where we defend, why we defend and when we defend. When they do that we almost never give up goals," he said.
Not surprisingly, there are injury concerns at the back for Real Salt Lake. Nat Borchers was limited in training this week because of a quad strain. Fellow defender Kenny Mansally is listed as questionable because of the shoulder separation suffered in his RSL debut two weeks ago, while midfielder Ned Grabavoy is also questionable with a knee strain.
San Jose striker Steven Lenhart is out and unavailable because of lingering concussion symptoms.
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