SANDY, Utah — Getting the right mix of players together both on and off the field usually leads to success. So with the way Real Salt Lake members talks about their squad, it is no wonder they sit atop the MLS standings.
"It feels great to get our whole family back together," said coach Jason Kreis after RSL's four international players — Álvaro Saborío (Costa Rica), Will Johnson (Canada), Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando (USA) — rejoined the team for training on Friday. "That is definitely how I think about it, it's not a team for me, it's a family."
With RSL poised to take on Chivas USA on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online), Kreis wants his "family" to play like one.
"I'm hopeful that hunger, that willingness, that happiness to be back together shows up tomorrow night," he said.
Having players away is tough, but for these teammates, absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially after three weeks apart.
"I feel right at home here," Rimando said. "It feels good to be back here, on this field, amongst the guys in the locker room. Even ugly guys on our team look good. I can't wait to get going and get back on the field wearing Real Salt Lake colors."
RSL haven't played an MLS game since May 26, a 3-2 home win over Dallas, so the squad's familiarity with each other will prove key. The core group of Salt Lake starters have been playing together for the past nearly four seasons, something that makes prolonged international absences easier to handle.
"It's always pleasing to turn on the TV and watch Costa Rica, or Canada or the US playing and having guys out there and representing our club," said Kreis. "I think we need to take a certain amount of pride in that because we make sacrifices as well to have them there."
Kreis said all four will be available to play against Chivas. He also said midfielder Javier Morales is "in the mix" for action.
Morales, who hasn't played since May 9, is returning from what was originally called a strained quadriceps muscle, but upon further treatment and a second opinion, is now attributed to a compressed nerve in his back.
"We are considering exactly how we will use him," said Kreis. "It may be in a starting role. We'll talk to him over the next 24 hours and try to make that decision."
This is RSL's second meeting with Chivas, the first resulting in a 1-0 win for the Goats at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 24. That loss does add a little fire to what has always been a unique rivalry for the two teams that began MLS play in the same expansion season.
"I'm up for it," said Kreis. "I'm big-time up for it. They beat us on our home field and I take that a little personally. I hope that my entire team feels the same way and we go into this game with a little chip on our shoulder."