SANDY — Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis pulled another rabbit out of his hat in Canada last weekend.
Using a hodgepodge lineup and a new formation, Kreis' team ended its six-year Canadian hex with a shutout victory over Toronto FC to remain top of the MLS table.
The win was RSL’s seventh-straight in all competitions, and further proof Kreis is in the zone when filling out his lineup card. Little-used Yordany Alvarez was the hero, scoring his first MLS goal, while Aaron Maund was the unsung defensive hero, contributing to the clean sheet in his first MLS start with Real.
Over the course of the next month, more Kreis wizardry will be necessary if Real Salt Lake hopes to remain top of the table with difficult matches ahead and notable international call-ups taking players away from the squad.
That stretch begins Wednesday at 8 p.m. against Philadelphia, but RSL's players don’t believe a few Gold Cup absences will derail their momentum.
“When you’re winning and you’re confident it’s easier to play. If you look in this league that’s probably why a lot of teams struggle for the most part: They don’t have that confidence,” said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. “It’s not necessarily that they don’t have good players or that the coaches don’t know what their doing; it’s that confidence lacks from week to week.”
There is no shortage of that confidence in Sandy.
Real Salt Lake is unbeaten in nine straight with a 25-7 goal differential, momentum that Philadelphia will be hard-pressed to overcome.
“The confidence is high and soccer is about momentum. So we have to take this momentum for us. If we beat Philly here, we’re still going to be top of the table,” said midfielder Javier Morales.
Real Salt Lake has accumulated 33 points through 18 matches this season, with Portland and Dallas close behind — both have 30 points and a game in hand.
With the difficult stretch ahead — and Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran and Alvaro Saborio on international duty this month — July may ultimately define whether RSL can realistically contend for the Supporters' Shield for finishing with the best regular-season record in MLS.
Kreis believes the backups are more than capable of doing the job.
“They’re certainly important players for us — there’s no doubt about it — but the next guy is ready and chomping at the bit to get in there and prove something. Over the first half of the season we’ve had a lot of guys do that,” said Kreis, who’s started 24 different players in league games this season.
A win over the third-place team in the Eastern Conference prior to the Rio Tinto Stadium fireworks show would be a positive kickoff to the Gold Cup stretch.
“This is when MLS teams start to separate themselves from the pack. We need to be smart playing in this weather and not make any silly mistakes 'cause there’s a lot of them this time of year,” said Grabavoy.
Philadelphia represents RSL’s fourth match in the past 12 days, but Kreis has proved himself through the years to be very adept at juggling lineups to keep players fresh. Only a handful of players who started in Toronto figure to be in the starting lineup Wednesday against the Union.
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