SANDY — For Real Salt Lake, it’s back to the grind.
Just three days after an emotionally charged U.S. Open Cup semifinal victory over a Portland team captained by Will Johnson, RSL dives right back into MLS play this Saturday in desperate need of a victory.
Real Salt Lake has managed to stay atop the Supporters' Shield race the past few weeks despite a three-game winless streak, but those good fortunes probably won’t last beyond this weekend without a victory.
Coach Jason Kreis isn’t worried about his team bouncing back mentally against the visiting Houston Dynamo, but rather physically after draining back-to-back games against Colorado and Portland in the last seven days.
“The only thing I’m worried about is the physiological aspect of it; how tired the players are. We had a couple of guys at the end of that game that were struggling with muscular things, and we have to be careful with that,” said Kreis.
One of those players is Kyle Beckerman, who has a bit of a tight hamstring. Kreis said it’s 50-50 whether RSL’s captain will play Saturday. With Beckerman’s regular backup Yordany Alvarez still suspended, Beckerman’s potential unavailability puts a wrinkle in preparations.
Whether it involves Beckerman or a few other undisclosed players dealing with nagging injuries, Kreis said he’ll error on the side of caution.
“We’ve got a lot of games left this year. We can’t be putting all of our eggs in trying to get three points (Saturday) and ending up with injured players,” said Kreis.
With lineup uncertainty and a dangerous Houston team coming to town on a four-game unbeaten streak, Real Salt Lake can take comfort in having a strong backline again. Wednesday marked the first game since June 22 in which Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Wingert and Nick Rimando were all on the field together.
Along with young center back Carlos Salcedo, RSL looked calmer defensively against Portland than it has since injuries, suspensions and call-ups started to deplete the roster.
“Those guys are huge for the team. I don’t think our outside backs ever get enough respect when it comes to the headlines, and they really do a great job positionally and defensively for us,” said Borchers.
Houston sits in fifth place in the East, but has steadily worked its way up the table and only trails first-place New York by five points with two games in hand.
“We’re going to have to battle, there’s no doubt. Houston has always been one of the most honest and competitive teams in the entire league. Every single game they give their absolute best and they fight and they scrap and they claw for it,” said Kreis.
This is the only meeting between Real Salt Lake and Houston this season, a rivalry historically dominated by Houston with a 9-3-5 record. The Dynamo, however, have only prevailed once in Utah in eight tries.
It’s a rivalry that’s always featured bizarre red cards and late winners, and considering RSL’s recent penchant for giving up late goals, Wednesday’s match certainly has the potential to be very entertaining.
“Big test against Houston, and we always get up for Houston,” said Borchers.
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company