If the calendar said June, July or August, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis would have reason to be concerned about a letdown this evening when his team takes on the last-place team in the Western Conference.
It's late September though, and Kreis said he expects nothing less than extreme focus at Chivas USA for the 8:30 p.m. kickoff at the Home Depot Center.
"I don't think there's any opportunity for anybody on our team to take a breath and say we're OK cause we're not. The playoffs started for us last week and it needs to continue this week," Kreis said.
With four games remaining in the regular season, Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles are tied for second in the Western Conference with 49 points, followed closely by fourth-place Seattle with 48 points. With a first-round bye being awarded to the top three teams, there's a huge premium for everyone to finish strong.
To secure one of those coveted spots, RSL needs to take care of business on the road — which could be a problem.
Since its last MLS road victory at Chivas USA on June 16, Real Salt Lake is 0-5-1 away from Rio Tinto Stadium. With consecutive road games at Chivas USA, Los Angeles and Seattle over the next three weeks, that will have to change if RSL wants to avoid a No. 4 vs. No. 5 wildcard series.
Despite the recent struggles, Will Johnson hasn't lost faith in RSL's ability to grind out a road result.
"When it's all said and done we still have the group who can go on the road and get results no matter what our form is. I think we've proven that over the years," Johnson said.
The first of the three road games is definitely the easiest, with RSL facing a Chivas team limping toward the late-October MLS finish line with five straight losses.
Kreis would love to make it six straight, but he'll need to do so with a makeshift lineup. Jamison Olave is suspended, and midfielder Ned Grabavoy picked up a quadriceps injury in training this week that will keep him on the shelf for two to four weeks.
Alvaro Saborio's availability is very much up in the air, too. The striker said his injured shoulder felt good after practice on Friday, but Kreis was non-committal about his status.
"He's in contention, it's just a question of if we think he can be effective in a starting role or a substitute role," Kreis said.
Real Salt Lake did just fine without Saborio in the lineup last weekend, beating Portland 2-1, its first multi-goal game in MLS play in nearly two months.
As far as Johnson is concerned, three straight road games might be exactly what Real Salt Lake needs to build on that momentum toward the playoffs.
"We're happy we're in the playoffs already and now we can just improve on that and get ourselves as fit and prepared as possible for those playoffs. No better games to prepare than going to L.A. twice and playing against Seattle on the road. Those are the games that will prepare you most for the challenge ahead," Johnson said.
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