You don't need to remind Dema Kovalenko how many times Real Salt Lake has failed to move into first place when given the opportunity.

It's four, and he says enough is enough.

"We're going to win tomorrow. The team's confident," said Kovalenko. "Fourth time, we've got to take it. I don't know if it's going to happen again."

It's not realistic for a team to continue losing and tying each weekend, and still expect to have a chance to move into first place the following weekend. In the parity-riddled Western Conference it's been happening all year, but it's unlikely to continue.

Last weekend RSL played to a scoreless draw against Houston when a win would have moved it into first place in the West for the first time in franchise history. Amazingly, the opportunity is there for the taking again tonight thanks to Thursday's draw between first-place Los Angeles and second-place Chivas USA.

With a win over Columbus at 7 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium, RSL can up its season total to 23, surpassing the first-place Galaxy by one point.

First place would seem to be motivation alone for Real Salt Lake, but it hasn't been in three previous tries this season. The first two wasted opportunities occurred on the road against Colorado and Kansas City, while the third occurred last weekend against Houston.

Pressure might be getting the better of RSL when first place is on the line as it has failed to score a goal in any of those matches.

"We know what we've got to do. When we get our chances we have to put them away. That's it," said Kovalenko, who was suspended for last week's Houston match. "We've got to take first place tomorrow, and go from there."

Head coach Jason Kreis, who is serving the first of his two-game suspension tonight for criticizing MLS officiating, isn't too concerned about first place. He says that will take care of itself if the team starts winning some games at home.

"For me it's a bigger deal to get another win at home," said Kreis, whose team owns an unbeaten 4-0-5 record at home. "For me that's not enough wins. The focus for me is to get another win at home. To not only play good soccer but to get the result, the other stuff will fall where it does."

With an upcoming stretch that includes seven of its next 10 matches on the road — where RSL is 1-6-0 this year — securing three points tonight would seem to be extremely important in the broader picture that is securing an MLS playoff berth in October.

Columbus enters the match as the second-place team in the Eastern Conference with 27 points, including a 2-0-2 record in its past four matches. The Crew's road record is 3-2-2.

In addition to its head coach, Real Salt Lake also will be without defender Chris Wingert, who is suspended for picking up a red card in the waning minutes of last week's chippy Houston match.

"It will hurt; he's one of our consistent performers. The talk has been about Javier (Morales) and some of the other boys, but Chris has been probably the most consistent performer on the entire squad," said Kreis.

His absence means Tony Beltran and Ian Joy will get starting nods at the two outside defender positions.

RSL on the air

Columbus Crew at RSL

Rice-Eccles Stadium

Today, 7 p.m.

TV: HDNet

Radio: 700AM/1600AM


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com