It’s an understatement to say that Real Salt Lake has to be thrilled to be back in the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium. After an extremely grueling first five games of the season that saw it play four of five on the road (plus another away game in Open Cup play), the squad now finds itself playing four of five at home. Just the kind of soup that one needs when feeling a little under the weather.
There is nothing like coming home to your own stadium. For some reason, when you step on the pitch in front of your own fans you play with a little more confidence, and the hill (in this case, a metaphor for the opponent) just isn’t quite as steep. RSL has proven this during its brief history at Rio Tinto Stadium, as evidenced by compiling the best home record in the league in its first full season in the building last year.
And it is no coincidence that RSL’s home record was so good in 2009 – there’s a little more adrenalin pumping through your body when you play in front of great home crowds. Through thick and thin, Real Salt Lake fans have always provided an incredible atmosphere, first at Rice-Eccles and now at Rio Tinto … and now that RSL is back at its stomping grounds, it needs to give its fans something to be loud about. With an increase in noise, that adrenalin just seems to ratchet up even more.
In this year’s home opener against Seattle (seems like ages ago, no?), RSL put forth the effort worthy of getting a result. The guys moved the ball around very well in most parts of the field, but the trouble came when the ball got into the final third, as RSL had trouble breaking the Sounders down around the box. To me, it was one of the best games at Rio Tinto that I had watched, but it appears visiting teams are now aware of how to play RSL at home: don’t let it counter-attack and make it break you down in the final third. In order to be successful during this homestand, RSL needs to get the creative juices going in and around the penalty area.
As cruel as the schedule-makers might have seemed in April, the May slate they provided presents a golden opportunity for RSL to get back to its winning ways. Think of the confidence that would build if the Claret-and-Cobalt were able to win all four at home this month and steal at least a point on the road against Chivas USA?
While I have the luxury to be able to look at the big picture, Real Salt Lake has to be focused and take it one game at a time (I know, I know, a sports cliché … “duh” Brian!). But, more importantly, the guys have to take each opponent seriously and come out ready to play in all of these matches. While the May slate might not be as “stacked” as the opening five games in terms of the opposition, that shouldn’t matter … and you can bet Coach Kreis will pound that point home to his charges. This is where RSL must be careful, as playing well and starting a winning streak in front of your faithful fans is strong motivation – but, on the flip side, so is beating the defending champion in their own stadium.