Hesitant earlier this season to put too much emphasis on any one particular match, Jason Kreis has seemingly done an about face with the MLS All-Star Game in the rear-view mirror.
Real Salt Lake's coach didn't hesitate in the slightest in dubbing tonight's match with visiting Toronto FC the biggest of the season.
"I wouldn't make any quandaries about it," said Kreis. "That's the way I've put it to the team. There's no doubt about it, we have to have three points."
There you have it, the pressure is on. With increasingly fewer and fewer home matches on RSL's schedule, earning maximum points from its five remaining home games in 2008 is extremely important. That reality is exemplified with a strange 18-day layoff for Real Salt Lake beginning on Tuesday.
Even though RSL still narrowly sits atop the Western Conference with the L.A. Galaxy falling at FC Dallas Sunday night, it likely won't remain there during the lengthy break.
"We have to go into our break first place in the conference because we're going to be off for a few weeks and teams are going to be catching up to us," said Kreis.
In particular, Los Angeles plays two matches during Real's late summer vacation. If RSL stumbles against Toronto, it could find itself trailing the Galaxy by five points when it returns to action on Aug. 16 at Houston.
Colorado, Houston and Chivas USA also play a handful of matches while RSL sits. Under a very feasible scenario, with a loss tonight Real Salt Lake could come out of its mid-August break in fifth place in the tightly-compacted West. Even with a win, it might be in third after the break.
It's easy, therefore, to see why Kreis is putting so much importance on tonight's 7 o'clock match at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
It's advantageous then for RSL that Toronto is coming to town. The second-year club has won just one match on the road this year, whereas RSL is 5-0-5 at home.
"Going into the game on Monday we've really got to look to continue from last game and minimize the mistakes we made," said Real defender Ian Joy. "Obviously we made a couple mistakes in that game (at Chicago) and got lucky. If we can minimize that at home, obviously that puts us in a good chance to go ahead and win that game."
Following tonight's match, RSL plays six of its next eight matches on the road before its tentative opener in the new Sandy Stadium on Oct. 9.
In addition to the potential boost of newcomer Robbie Russell tonight, Fabian Espindola should also be back in the mix.
The Argentine striker has trained with the team at full strength this week and Kreis fully expects Espindola to be on the 18-man roster tonight. During Espindola's eight-game hiatus the coaching staff primarily went with pairs up top, going with Kenny Deuchar and Robbie Findley at times and Tino Nunez and Yura Movsisyan at other times. Espindola changes all that.
"He definitely throws a monkey wrench into things," said Kreis. "I'm pretty sure someone in the forward line is going to be disappointed Monday night. I don't like to have to make difficult decisions like that, but I think it's a good thing in the end."Real Salt Lake has only given up two goals in its past eight games and is in the midst of a 271-minute shutout streak. Conversely, RSL has only scored twice in its past four matches.
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