Carey Talley calls it grit, while teammate Ian Joy likes to call it bite. Nat Borchers refers to it as being switched on, whereas Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis prefers calling it competitiveness.
Whatever the distinction, for the first time in franchise history RSL has a number of those type of fiery competitors who will do whatever it takes to win.
"The guys I always used to look up to were nice guys off the field, but crazy, insane maniacs on the field," said RSL defender Borchers. "It's important to be able to switch that personality on during the game."
Borchers, along with Joy, Kyle Beckerman, Carey Talley and Dema Kovalenko are all the type of players who don't hold anything back emotionally during their 90 minutes on the pitch. More may emerge as the season wears on, but of the five who aren't afraid to put a little more oomph into their challenges, only Talley and Beckerman are holdovers from 2007, and Beckerman only spent half of last year with RSL.
Prior to acquiring Beckerman in a late July trade, Salt Lake only had nine points in the standings with a 1-8-6 record. The midfielder's arrival helped RSL double that point total with a 5-7-3 mark in the second half of the season.
Having the tenacious Beckerman around for the entire 2008 campaign, along with the dozen or so other upgrades, should have a positive impact in year four for RSL.
"They're competitors, and that's the way I look it," Kreis said. "They want to win, and are willing to do what's necessary to win. That's what I think we've tried to do is get more players like that, who just at the bottom of at all they want to win."
When asked if that was lacking the three previous years, who quickly said, "I think that's fair to say."
Not surprisingly, RSL's feistiest players are all defensive-oriented players.
"I think it's more of being able to recognize danger in a certain area, and knowing if I go into a tackle it's got to be full or nothing, and that's what you need," said Talley. "You need guys that can recognize that, if they're passive at the wrong time then you kind of get screwed."
Kovalenko is probably the most aggressive, some would say reckless, of all the Real Salt Lake's newcomers. In 1999 as a member of the Chicago Fire, he broke the leg of Dallas defender Brandon Pollard on a vicious tackle, an injury that forced Pollard to retire a year later. In 2003, then a member of D.C. United, Kovalenko broke the leg of Dallas midfielder Ronnie O'Brien on another dangerous challenge.
It's been four years since the O'Brien incident, and though he's toned things down a bit, Kovalenko still possess the same bite opponents have come to dread playing against. It's worth noting as well that O'Brien now plays for expansion San Jose, a team RSL plays three times during the regular season, as well as a late-April U.S. Open Cup qualifier.
Borchers doesn't have the same type of mean streak as Kovalenko; instead he tries to channel his intensity into extreme focus along the backline.
"It's so important. You take a guy like Blanco or a guy like Andy Herron, one of the strikers from Chicago, if you're not aware for an instant in the game, they're going to slip by you and score," said Borchers. "You need to be ready for 90 minutes of every single play, and it just takes a lot of years of practice and a different mentality."Outside of a few individuals that mentality has been absent in the Real Salt Lake locker room the past three years. However, as the team gears up for the 2008 season that may no longer be the case.
Chicago Fire at Real Salt Lake
Saturday, 4 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium
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