SANDY — As far as Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis is concerned, the San Jose Earthquakes are a sleeping giant.
He’s not fooled by their sub-.500 record or their third-round ouster from the U.S. Open Cup earlier this week. The ‘Quakes are the defending Supporters' Shield champions, and Kreis says his players must realize they're facing an outstanding side when RSL hosts San Jose Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. inside Rio Tinto Stadium.
“It is a team just going through just a little lull at the beginning of the season, probably mostly to do with how they finished last year. We've seen it lots of times,” said Kreis. “But (they are) a very, very dangerous opponent — so many dangerous players and such an aggressive style of play that we've got to be fully prepared for that. We just are going to hope we are not the ones to wake the beast."
Ironically enough, it was RSL that woke the sleeping giant last year.
In San Jose’s only visit to Utah last year, it prevailed 2-1 to overtake Real Salt Lake for first place in the Western Conference — a spot it didn’t relinquish the rest of the season.
Roughly a year later, San Jose sits in seventh place in the West with a 3-5-6 record.
For third-place RSL, this weekend’s match against a struggling opponent represents another great opportunity to inch up the standings. That’s what everyone thought last week against Chicago, but the Fire scored a late equalizer to earn a draw.
That tie was a disappointing start to a six-game homestand, which includes two Open Cup games. Saturday’s match is the third in the lengthy stretch, and Kreis would like to see his players build on the momentum from Tuesday’s overtime triumph against Atlanta.
He refuses to view being stretched an extra 30 minutes against a lower-division foe as a negative. He believes the mental fortitude his players displayed in overtime far outweighs any negatives.
The overtime, however, could decrease the availability of several players. Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Chris Wingert played all 120 minutes Tuesday, with Robbie Findley, Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez each logging roughly 60 minutes.
After Tuesday’s match Kreis acknowledged a few would probably be ruled out completely against San Jose, but Friday he said everyone appears to be recovering quickly.
“Everyone is feeling pretty good. They looked pretty sharp today,” said Kreis. “You always kind of want as a coach to make the decisions easier. You would like them to come and tell you they're tired and they want a break, but unfortunately all these guys want to play too much. So we will have to make some tough choices."
One player Kreis doesn’t need to concern himself with is Alvaro Saborio. The striker injured his left quad last week against Chicago and has been ruled out for Saturday.
Saborio leads his team with four goals, two of which came in a season-opening victory at San Jose back on March 3.
Defensively, you can bet Kreis will be challenging his team to lock things down defensively, which has been a trouble spot this year with just three shutouts. A year ago Real Salt Lake recorded 14 shutouts in 34 matches.
San Jose has been blanked in three of its past four matches, including Tuesday’s Open Cup loss at Charleston.
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