Real Salt Lake began preparation for Champions League play in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
No, the Philadelphia Union hadn't somehow found their way into the CONCACAF competition. Rather, head coach Jason Kreis seemed to consider the near-term schedule when he selected the starting lineup for RSL's 1-1 road result against the Union.
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Typical starters Kyle Beckerman, Robbie Findley, Nick Rimando, Will Johnson, Robbie Russell and Jamison Olave were all either on the bench or left off of the 18-man roster altogether. In addition, striker Alvaro Saborio was away with the Costa Rican national team as they faced Paraguay in a friendly.
The lineup shuffle came as Real Salt Lake are halfway through a stretch of four games in 12 nights that ends with the team’s first-ever Champions League match against Arabe Unido next Wednesday. They then venture off to Mexico City to face Cruz Azul the following week.
For his part, reserve goalkeeper Kyle Reynish held his own in net as he replaced All-Star Rimando. Though he gave up the early goal by Mwanga, it was on a play that gave him little chance as Mwanga was alone at point-blank range. From then on, though, Reynish was able to keep Philadelphia from scoring by making several good saves, including a one-on-one stop off Sebastian Le Toux.
“I thought he was the Man of the Match for us,” Kreis said.
Reynish kept net behind a defense that looked shaky during the opening minutes of this match. Youngster Rauwshan McKenzie did not always appear to be on the same page as central defense partner Nat Borchers early in the game, but he improved as the match wore on.
“Whenever you mix it up a little bit (the lineup), you are going to have some miscommunication,” acknowledged Reynish on ESPN 700 radio after the game.
It did not appear that the roster changes were a sign that Kreis was treating this as a throw-away game, or even that he was just looking for a draw. This was made evident when he introduced first-teamers Robbie Findley and Will Johnson as substitutes in the second half as RSL sought a victory.
Although back-to-back road draws hardly signifies a road juggernaut, it is a large step forward for this franchise when playing away from home.
RSL picked up their 12th point on the road this season—a 50 percent improvement over the eight road points in all of last season. In addition, they stand one win and three points away from tying all-time road marks in those categories with five road matches remaining on the schedule.
“I'm very pleased that [RSL] got a result in a difficult place to play," Kreis said.