When Real Salt Lake take the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium for their sixth game of the season against Toronto this weekend, the grass will feel a little softer, the air will feel clear and crisp, and the lights inside the stadium will seem a little brighter.
That’s not because those things are a reality, but simply because being at home gives you a new outlook on life. And being at home is not something this team has done much of lately.
Although RSL knew that April was going to be a difficult month when the schedules came out, you never can fully appreciate it until you live through it. And the five road matches in four weeks haven't proven particularly kind to the road-weary travelers.
After starting off the season in auspicious fashion with a road win at San Jose, the defending MLS Cup champs have only picked up one additional point -- at home against Seattle. They did also manage another victory outside of league play in an U.S. Open Cup play-in match.
As menacing as the schedule was in April, it is equally as kind in May. RSL play four of their five league matches at home, where they’ll undoubtedly enjoy taking in all that springtime in the Rockies has to offer. They're hoping to also enjoy the historical success that they have experienced playing at home -- where they lost only once in 2009 -- to go along with only one loss in 2008 as well.
Not suprisingly, Real Salt Lake feel like they have some distinct advantages on their home turf.
“A lot of it has got to be due to our aggressive mentality when we play at home,” last year’s team MVP Nat Borchers told MLSsoccer.com at a recent practice. "We make sure that we press teams in their half of the field. We make sure that’s where we’re winning balls. We make sure that we’re not playing in our half of the field, and we try to assert ourselves early.”
For Borchers' back-line teammate Chris Wingert, that aggressiveness means trying to accomplish a couple of specific objectives.
“It means trying to organize right from the start," Winger said. "Make sure that I’m loud for whoever is playing in front of me. And hopefully I’ll get a good tackle or two, right from the start to set the tone early."
So where does that mentality come from, and why is it different at home? Coach Jason Kreis may have summed it up best.
“We're not going to hopefully ever allow a team to come in and dictate the tempo of the match in our stadium,” Kreis emphasized. “This is our home! This is our stadium!”