Real Salt Lake’s preseason is coming to a close just as other teams around the league are reaching their stride.
But after RSL ended their second out-of-state training stint in Phoenix earlier this week, and ahead of a crucial CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against the Columbus Crew on Tuesday, head coach Jason Kreis said his team is on the right track.
“We’re very, very pleased to finish up our preseason with a positive result and a positive defensive effort from our guys,” Kreis told ESPN 700 Sports Radio after his team shutout Chivas USA, 2-0, in a scrimmage on Tuesday.
The team leaves for Columbus on Saturday to give the players enough time to get acclimated to both the weather and the timezone in Ohio.
Reports out of RSL's camp indicate that the defense has begun taking shape over the past few days, but though the attack has shown some impressive spurts, it hasn’t fully clicked yet.
That’s to be expected given the team started camp less than four weeks ago and that it's suffered a number of injuries and absences from both midfield and forward positions.
Midfielders Arturo Alvarez and Will Johnson have missed time due to international commitments, while forwards Fabian Espindola and Pablo Campos suffered injuries that shelved them for an extended period.
[inline_node:328817]Fortunately for RSL, Morales, Alvarez and Espíndola have all since returned to the practice pitch and were able to work out at the team’s training facility late in the week.
Perhaps the biggest unknown is which player will start up top alongside Alvaro Saborio in Tuesday’s match, though many have speculated that youngster Paulo Jr. could fill that role.
“He was very dangerous for us all day, getting himself into dangerous spots and taking guys on very well,” Kreis said of Paulo Junior's performance against Chivas USA. “We’re still looking for that finished product. We would have liked to have seen him finish one of those plays with either a goal or an assist.”
Alvarez and Espíndola are the other likely options. However, Alvarez has had little time on the field between injury and time away with the El Salvador national team. Espíndola may be a more likely alternate and reportedly was in great form prior to his injury.
“My timeframe is to have that decision made by next Monday night," Kreis said. "That’s when we meet with the players, we give them the lineup and we prepare for the match.”
As for the Crew, Kreis said he thinks he has a pretty good handle on a team that has had a lot of turnover during the offseason.
“We’ve done a pretty decent job of scouting them in their last two preseason matches here in Arizona," he said. "We think we’ve got a pretty good feeling for where they’re at right now, and what they’re going to look like next week.”
In regards to his own side, Kreis said he's pleased with its progress but understands there's still work to do.
“There’s no chance that we’ll be in midseason form for these first two matches against Columbus," he said. "But I also don’t think that we have to be because they are going to be in the exact same boat."