Call them the “B” team. Call them the “2nd” team. Or call them reserves. Whatever you call them, RSL’s non-regulars got the job done on Saturday, earning a 2-0 win away to New England.
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis fielded only two starters from Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal match against Saprissa. In fact, seven of the eleven starters had fewer than five starts for RSL prior to the New England match. That includes Arturo Alvarez who made his first MLS start for Salt Lake.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: New England 0, Real Salt Lake 2
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the match was the defense, anchored by goalkeeper Kyle Reynish and two youngsters, Chris Schuler and Rauwshan McKenzie, in central defense. Reynish made several important saves to maintain the clean sheet, and Schuler and McKenzie played on par with the usual centerbacks of Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave.
As it turned out, Schuler was probably the man of the match for RSL. Not only did he help lock down the defense, but he also scored the opening goal on a corner kick swung in by Collen Warner, another relative greenhorn making only his fifth career start.
“I don’t know how I got free, but I just saw where Collen was looking and I tried to go where I thought he was going to play the ball,” Schuler told KUTV, Salt Lake’s local CBS affiliate after the match. “He did, and I got the goal.”
Schuler saw this match as a good chance for both him and McKenzie to make an impression.
[inline_node:333030]“To be honest we just see it as a great opportunity. We’ve got a couple of All-Stars in front of us. Every chance we get to step on the field, we try to make the most out of it.”
Kreis said he was extremely pleased with the effort from the team, especially in the way they dealt with the New England attack.
“I was pleased with the way we dealt with things defensively,” said Kreis. “We had a pretty good game plan that we went over yesterday with our guys and they stuck to it, and I think really frustrated New England.”
The game boiled over in the late stages. There were three red cards in the final 20 minutes, to the Revs’ Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan and to RSL’s Will Johnson.
But for Real Salt Lake, the result and the display of depth trumped any negativity coming out of the match. The win stretched their unbeaten streak in league play to 17 games, which is two behind the all-time record. RSL also extended their unbeaten streak on the road to 9 games, the 2nd longest in league history.
Next up, RSL will host Rocky Mountain rivals the Colorado Rapids. It is always a huge match, and with the rest provided to his regulars on Saturday, Kreis is looking forward to going for three points against the current champions.
“Every time we play Colorado, whether it’s our place or their place, it’s an emotionally charged affair,” the coach said. “The fans are into it. We’re into it. We don’t hide the fact that it’s a huge rivalry for us and since they won the Cup last year, they’re the ones with the target on their back.”