SANDY — Coach Jason Kreis freely admitted after Real Salt Lake's practice on Wednesday that he made a mistake with his formation choice against Los Angeles in Game 1.
On paper, it seemed like a good idea to play a bit more conservative in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals against the Galaxy, but it didn’t pan out that way.
For long stretches of last Sunday’s match at the StubHub Center, RSL’s midfield looked out of sorts and as a result dealt with wave after wave of attacks from the Galaxy.
“I do think some of the burden needs to fall on the coach that decided to put his team in a different shape. I am fine accepting that burden,” said Kreis. “When you put players in different shapes, there’s different passing lanes open and players are in different spots when we have the ball, and I think it caused some relative uncomfort with our group, and we didn’t do enough to push the Galaxy back.”
Kreis said RSL will revert back to its customary diamond formation for Thursday’s second and decisive leg of the semifinal series.
“We didn’t have a good game against L.A. at their place. We played a different formation; we didn’t execute it well; we gave them a lot of chances, but hey, we’re still in it and we still have a huge opportunity to get through,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
That’s the consensus among RSL players heading into Thursday’s game at Rio Tinto Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN2).
They know they could easily be down three or four goals with as many chances as the Galaxy generated, but they’re only down 1-0 in the total-goals series and there’s everything still to play for.
“We’re a goal down. We’re at home. (If) you win the game at the very least you get overtime and penalties. The objective is very clear for us and we’re in a comfortable position being in our own stadium to know what we have to do,” said Kreis.
Real Salt Lake went 10-3-4 at home in MLS this season, and winning is the only result that will be good enough on Thursday. A two-goal victory pushes the club through to the Western Conference finals, while a one-goal win after regulation would necessitate 30 minutes of overtime — followed by a shootout if neither team scores.
It’s the perfect scenario for the Galaxy, who went 1-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium this season.
“They defend very well and they counter very well. So with a one-goal lead we understand we are in a dangerous position. But so what?” said Kreis.
Needing a goal, Salt Lake will certainly try to dictate the flow from the opening whistle, but it can’t get stretched defensively too early and expose itself to the lethal L.A. counter. It’s a balancing act that is unavoidable, but one defender Chris Wingert believes RSL is suited to deal with.
“Last game we weren’t as good with the ball as we know we can be, so hopefully (Thursday) we’ll be taking the game to them and really put them on their back foot,” said Wingert.
Salt Lake will be short-handed in the midfield, though, as Ned Grabavoy has been ruled out of Game 2 because of a hamstring strain. That would seem to open the door for Sebastian Velasquez to make his first playoff start.
RSL’s all-time playoff record at home is 3-2-1, but in decisive games it’s 0-2-1 and has never advanced.
“We acknowledge that we haven’t had great successes in big games in this stadium, and we need to change that. It’s gotta change tomorrow night and that’s what we’re going to aim to do,” said Borchers.
The RSL-L.A. winner advances to face the Portland-Seattle winner, with the second leg of that game kicking off at 9 p.m. MST on Thursday.
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