If it seems that Real Salt Lake comes into its game each week talking about the importance of getting three points and a win, it's because with the tightly bunched Major League Soccer standings in the Western Conference, every game is vital to the club making its first-ever playoff appearance.
"I don't know how many times I have said it this season, and I wouldn't say it if I didn't truly believe in all the other prior games I have called huge," said coach Jason Kreis of today's 7 p.m. contest against Chivas USA, "but I would say this one is the biggest one for us by far."
The game will mark the closing of an era for RSL as well. With its new stadium in Sandy set to open in time for the next home game on Oct. 9, the match with Chivas will mark the last time it'll play at Rice-Eccles. But according to the players and coaches, that takes a back seat to the importance of the game itself.
"Yeah, they came in at the same time we did, and yeah, this is the last game at Rice-Eccles," Kreis added. "But the most important thing is that this is the team right on our heels for those playoff spots. We have to win."
The two teams stand No. 2 and 3 in the standings in the West, and they split the two games played earlier this season, with Chivas (8-10-6, 30 points) winning on April 5, 3-1, and Real (8-9-7, 31 points) capturing its lone road win on June 14, 1-0.
Both of those games were played in California at the Home Depot Center, so RSL is happy to be returning to friendly turf. The Salt Lake club sports an undefeated record in its home stadium this season (7-0-5).
"This year, for whatever reason, it became a bit of a fortress," said Kreis of Rice-Eccles. "Hopefully, we can finish it off right."
Chivas has a couple of familiar faces on its squad. Atiba Harris, Carey Talley and Alecko Eskandarian all were with Real last season and now play for the Goats. If passing RSL in the standings isn't enough, that is something Kreis feels could provide extra incentive.
"One of the biggest factors you have to consider is there are three players on that squad that were all on our squad last year, so I am sure they are coming here wanting to make a statement," added Kreis.
Regardless of the opponent, closing a stadium or the players on the field, Real knows it can't afford not to get the full three points."It doesn't really matter if it is the first game at the stadium or the last game there, we need to go out and get the win. It is important if we want to keep making a push toward reaching our goals," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
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