HERRIMAN — Kyle Beckerman didn’t mince words: “I’m sure they want to crush us.”
"They" is Los Angeles FC, the team Real Salt Lake upset on the road last year in the knockout round of the MLS Playoffs. LAFC had MLS Cup aspirations, but thanks to a wonder goal from Damir Kreilach, those dreams fizzled early.
This Saturday RSL returns to Banc of California Stadium (8:30 p.m., KMYU) knowing redemption will be on LAFC’s mind. An RSL win this weekend might be an even bigger upset considering how shorthanded the team will be.
Albert Rusnak, Corey Baird and Sam Johnson are all away on international duty, while Jefferson Savarino and Marcelo Silva are each suspended after picking up red cards in last week’s drubbing at D.C. United. That’s five first-choice players unavailable for selection for coach Mike Petke.
“It’s always going to be a difficult situation, and now with the amount players we have missing, maybe it makes it a little more tough,” said Petke.
The lineup possibilities are endless, and may result in multiple players making their professional debuts, and multiple players starting in uncustomary roles.
“It’s a chance in a very hostile environment, very difficult circumstances, but at the end of the day, still a chance for them to step on and show they belong at the level and challenge me to make tough decisions in the next week after that,” said Petke.
LAFC will likely play high pressure early on to rattle RSL’s makeshift lineup. If Petke’s team can absorb the initial wave or two, it might allow the newcomers to settle into the game.
Even though the quality on the field won’t be as high, defender Nedum Onuoha believes that can be overcome by the hunger of the players on the field.
“You have 11 people on the field who are desperate to be there, to be playing. For as much as it might not necessarily be the same that would’ve played last week, you’ve got people who have been working very hard to get the opportunity,” said Onuoha.
As for the continuity, he said it’s not as tricky as people think.
“Whoever comes into the team, we all know how each person plays, we all know what he can bring to the side. It’s not just like someone’s just been brought off the street and they're brand new. I have every confidence that whoever plays on Saturday will do well,” he said.
RSL could play well and still lose at it’s going up against an LAFC squad that Petke said is one of the two best teams in MLS at the moment. It already has home wins over Kansas City and Portland, and then last week it earned a 2-2 draw at New York City FC.
LAFC has scored eight goals already this year, while Real Salt Lake’s lone two goals were scored by Rusnak.Comment on this story
It might take another heroic night in Los Angeles from Kreilach for RSL to steal points.
“This game if we had everybody healthy and nobody away for internationals it was going to be a really tough game anyway, now it’s going to be a bit of a harder challenge for us,” said Beckerman. “This is an opportunity for guys to get in there and get some real serious game-time experience against a really good team and see if we can get something out of it and look good not only as a team but individually as well.”