SANDY — Three months ago Real Salt Lake trailed the Los Angeles Galaxy by 12 points in the standings, and many were already conceding the MLS Supporters' Shield.
Amazingly, RSL has climbed back into contention over the past few months and Saturday's win over New York has the club in a very advantageous position. Los Angeles and Columbus are tied for the best record in MLS with 44 points, with RSL right behind at 43 points.
With a Thursday game on tap at Seattle, Real Salt Lake can vault ahead of everybody with a victory for the best record. Two days later it could fall right back to Earth with Columbus and L.A. playing weekend games.
When asked about the significance of the opportunity in Saturday's press conference, Kreis slyly said with a grin,"it's already been mentioned to the players."
"It would be huge. There's no doubt about it. We feel a lot of pride in what we've done here over several years, and to kind of answer a lot of naysayers about what they said about us at the end of last year would be gigantic," said Kreis.
Many have dubbed RSL's championship a year ago a fluke, with the team qualifying for the playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season. Kreis knew the only way to sway those opinions was for sustained consistency this season.
Outside of the opening month of the season, RSL has done that and the best evidence of that would be to climb into first place this week at Seattle.
Ultimately though, Kreis believes his team is a long shot to remain in first place until the end of the season. It has everything to do with the number of home games remaining.
Only three of Real Salt Lake's final seven games are at home, while Los Angeles plays six of its last seven games in the cozy confines of the Home Depot Center. Columbus, meanwhile, is in the same position as RSL with just three home games.
"I would still say we're very much a long shot. Just the number of home games we have versus away games, that in and of itself puts us behind the 8-ball," said Kreis.
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said as long as there's games to play and the Supporters' Shield is mathematically possible, that is the club's No. 1 goal. In many respects it would be more impressive than winning last year's MLS Cup.
"It's one of the toughest things in sports to do to say you were the best team over the entire season. I don't think American fans rate that as high as MLS Cup, but we in the locker room really do," said Nat Borchers. "That's our goal right now and we're going to fight for that until the end."
Columbus won the Supporters' Shield last year with only 49 points, but it's going to take much more than that this year. The Crew won it as well in 2008 with 58 points, and the magic number figures to be right around there again.
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