Sitting in second place in the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake is quickly shedding the losing culture that plagued the franchise the first three years. There's legitimate talk of playoffs as the club prepares to move into its new stadium in the final month of the 2008 season.
An increased level of expectation is a natural byproduct of RSL's modest five-game unbeaten streak and quick ascent up the standings, but are the players prepared for the added pressure and attention?
We'll find out tonight at 6 (MDT) as RSL makes its lone visit to Kansas City. The match will be televised on KSL Digital 5.3 and Comcast Ch. 105.
Even though these teams played to a scoreless draw in Utah earlier this month, this is a match RSL should win if it truly aspires to be an upper-echelon team in Major League Soccer.
The Wizards not only own the second worst record in MLS with 13 points, they're 0-4-3 since their last win on April 20 and they haven't scored a goal the past 3 1/2 games 320 minutes, to be precise.
As hungry as Real Salt Lake's players are for their second road victory of the season, keeper Nick Rimando acknowledges that Kansas City is a desperate team right now, "and they're going to want three points, if not worse than us."
He knows, however, that an RSL win would be a fantastic way to wrap up the first half of the season.
"We've proven to ourselves we can beat the best teams in the league," said Rimando. "If we go out there and get three points, I think teams will start looking at us as a real threat."
The win would also push RSL into first place in the Western Conference, for one day at least. The L.A. Galaxy lead the West with 21 points, two more than RSL's 19. The Galaxy don't play until Sunday, meaning an RSL win in the Midwest Saturday night would vault it into first place for the first time in franchise history.
"It's huge for us. We're on a win streak right now," said midfielder Andy Williams. "It's a chance for us to send a signal to the league that we're a formidable top three team in this league."
When these teams met at Rice-Eccles Stadium on June 7, Real failed to score a goal despite outshooting Kansas City 19-7.
"I'm hoping that that's fresh in our players minds that we go there with the mind set that we need to get those points back," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Despite Kansas City's obvious struggles right now, the visitors have plenty of uncertainty as well. Even though RSL was victorious in its most recent road game at Chivas USA, it owned a five-game road losing streak prior to that triumph and still owns the worst road goal differential (minus-8) in MLS.
Williams said the team is looking forward, not backward, and it plans on going after the win tonight instead of approaching it with a negative defensive mentality.
"We're going to be playing the same way we play at home for the first 20 minutes, start off with a high pressure and try and get that first goal," said Williams.
Considering that RSL is unbeaten at home with a 4-0-4 record, it seems a logical to try to mimic that approach on the road.Three of RSL's five forwards are listed on the injury report this week. Fabian Espindola (knee) is out, Yura Movsisyan (knee) is questionable and Robbie Findley (concussion) is probable.
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