SANDY — An October preseason?
Seems kind of absurd for an MLS team to drift back into preseason mode with the playoffs just around the corner, but Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis believes that’s exactly what his team needs.
During a bye week last week, Kreis worked his team extremely hard in practice, including training twice on Wednesday and spending an increased amount of time on tactics. The extra work was a way to refocus players, who’ve definitely lost their way a bit with a 1-3-1 record over the past month.
“The amount of work they put in and the spirit with which they did the work was second to none,” said Kreis. “So I was really, really pleased with what we got out of last week, and (during) the first two training sessions this week the spirit has been terrific.”
The “mini preseason” has a history of paying big, big dividends for Real Salt Lake, something Kreis is hoping to duplicate in 2013.
Back in 2009, Real Salt Lake had an 18-day break from league play from Sept. 27 to Oct. 13. Just before the break, RSL was embarrassed 3-0 at FC Dallas — a loss that at the time seemed to crush all playoff possibilities.
Not wanting to give up playoff hope though, Kreis put his players through a rigorous “mini preseason,” which included a spirited friendly against Chivas Guadalajara at Rio Tinto Stadium in the middle of the break.
RSL thumped New York in its first game after the break, and despite losing at Toronto the following week, it beat Colorado on the final day of the regular season to sneak into the playoffs in improbable fashion.
The rest is history. Buoyed by some much-needed extra tactical work during the lengthy layoff, underdog Real Salt Lake went on to win MLS Cup.
Is history poised to repeat itself?
A lot must happen before RSL celebrates winning any hardware, but Kreis is hopeful the experience from 2009 pays dividends. The things he’s stressed at training the past two weeks are identical to what he stressed during a similar break in 2009.
The biggest difference between RSL’s October breaks in 2009 and 2013 is that four years ago it benefitted from a high-level exhibition game against a Mexican League team. A similar match wasn’t on the schedule this time around, but Kreis said last weekend’s “intra-squad” scrimmage served a very similar purpose.
RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said the extra work is exactly what RSL needed.
“It’s not like we’ve been in great form lately, so putting the work in is necessary,” said Grabavoy, who was part of the team back in 2009 too. “And this time of year we don’t need a break anyway; we need to stay here and get as sharp as we can.”
Real Salt Lake sits in second place in the West, just one point behind first-place Portland heading into a Saturday showdown between the clubs. Neither has clinched a playoff berth, which only adds to the game's importance.
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