SANDY, Utah — If Real Salt Lake is feeling any lingering after effects from their last couple of games, it hasn't been evident on the practice field.
Not only is Head Coach Jason Kreis pleased with how his team has looked during workouts and scrimmages this week and last, but the players are loose. Confident. The energy has been high, and they look like they're having fun during scrimmages.
They're having fun celebrating when they score a goal, but they're not goofing around.
“The attitude's been fantastic. The work rate's been terrific,” Kreis told MLSsoccer.com. “I think we've had a focused group. I think we're all on the same page. It's been about refueling us and getting us ready to go for the last two matches.”
RSL is coming off the huge disappointment of losing the U.S. Open Cup final to lowly D.C. United on Oct. 1, followed by a home tie with FC Dallas on Oct. 5. If there was any good news out of that, it's that they managed a 1-1 result despite going down a man in the 17th minute when Abdoulie Mansally was shown a straight red card for a foul on Dallas' Jackson.
Mansally has been suspended for a second game, so he'll miss Salt Lake's final two matches of the season. And they're huge matches.
RSL heads to Portland on Saturday in a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference. This time, the Timbers are No. 1; RSL is a point behind in second. Unless there's a tie, one team or the other is guaranteed of waking up on Sunday morning at the top of the conference table.
“This is as big as it gets, but we've played in some big ones,” Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert told MLSsoccer.com. “It's going to be tough. They have one of the best home-field advantages in the game. Their crowd is incredible. But we're looking forward to the challenge — that's kind of our goal, to play in big matches.”
The Timbers are riding a 16-game MLS unbeaten streak at Jeld-Wen Field (11-0-5) dating back to July 2012.
But RSL brings its own streak to Portland. After losing 1-0 in their first-ever meeting in April 2011, Salt Lake is 5-0-2 against the Timbers in all competitions — including a tie at Jeld-Wen Field earlier this season.
Kreis acknowledged that “there's a ton on the line” in Saturday's game.
“We know if we can somehow manage to get a win there, that will put us in a really good place,” he said. “Huge game, but I'm pretty sure I'll be saying next week the next one's just as big.”
Real Salt Lake closes out the regular season against Chivas USA on Oct. 23.