SANDY — The bizarre MLS playoff bye weekend was definitely a double-edged sword for Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis.
On one hand, it was great to give injured starters Alvaro Saborio, Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert extra time to recover, but on the other hand, Kreis would’ve loved to continue the positive momentum generated in his club's thrashing of Portland in Leg 1 of the Western Conference finals.
“For me this time of year is all about momentum and moving things forward and keeping everybody interested — and when I say everybody, the fans too. I would’ve liked to see it continue on especially as someone who feels our team has finally gained momentum,” said Kreis.
That obviously wasn’t an option with last weekend’s bye, though, so Kreis tried implementing the perfect blend of hard work for some players and rest for others to get Real Salt Lake ready for the second leg this Sunday in Portland.
He’s confident there will be no letdown.
“When you think about a game for this long, one thing should be for sure: You should be hungry and ready to play,” said Kreis.
Grabavoy in particular benefitted from the extra rest as he’s back to 100 percent after missing RSL’s last two playoff games because of a hamstring strain picked up in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles.
Despite the rest, Saborio is still questionable for this weekend’s game because of the hip flexor injury picked up against Los Angeles. But he hasn’t been ruled out, which would’ve been the case last weekend.
Wingert, however, has definitely been ruled out. The outside back broke a rib early in Game 1 against Portland, and ended up spending a couple of days in the hospital because of blood in his lungs. Wingert’s season is not completely over yet, though. If RSL advances to MLS Cup on Dec. 7, Kreis is hopeful the RSL veteran can work his way back and be in consideration.
Another subtle benefit brought about by the extra week between matches is it allowed Real Salt Lake more time to focus on Portland tactically.
Even though RSL has been very successful this year against the Timbers with a 3-0-2 record in all competitions, the coaching staff used the extra time to analyze the things that worked and didn’t work in the first leg. They've tried to make improvements where necessary.
“We had the proper amount of time off to recharge the batteries, and also we laid down some details that we want to go over in the game coming up,” said RSL 'keeper Nick Rimando. “Attitude is right (and) spirits are right, so that’s the most important thing.”