SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake know what is at stake when they take the field against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online). The Claret-and-Cobalt hold a two-point lead over the Quakes in the Western Conference, and San Jose have a game in hand.
"It's huge for us,” midfielder Will Johnson said. “They took three points from us [in San Jose on April 21], which we're not happy about. First and second place [on the line], our goal is to get first place in this league. Tomorrow night will go a long way toward that goal. We know in the back of our mind we have to go back to San Jose one more time this year."
The huge contest is a little bit tougher than normal for RSL. Defenders Jámison Olave and Chris Schuler have both been ruled out for the game, the Colombian with a calf injury and the American with a stress fracture in his foot. While Schuler is expected to return to training next week, RSL will likely bring back a familiar face to pair with Nat Borchers in central defense: Chris Wingert.
"I've played more games in my life at center back than I have at outside back, so I am still fairly comfortable there," Wingert said. "I will just go over a few things today, go over my spacing, and hopefully, I will be a little bit tougher there."
In both of RSL’s last two contests, Wingert has moved to center back around hour mark in the wake of an Olave substitution. In both instances, Johnson has dropped from the midfield into Wingert's left back position.
"That's the issue really for me," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. "You move one player like Wingert into that [center] spot, and you've got other question marks at his spot. But we have players, again, that have stepped forward and taken advantage of opportunities when they've been given. It just means more players will get opportunities now.”
One option for Kreis at outside back is the newest member of the team, 23-year-old Gambian international Kenny Mansally, who signed on Tuesday following a three week trial with the squad. Mansally was released earlier this season by the New England Revolution.
"We brought him here to be an outside back," Kreis said. "That's where he has played in all of our training sessions. That's where he played in the reserve game for us for the majority of the minutes. He's a versatile player, we know, which is always good. Maybe we could consider him at forward, where he played for New England, but for us, we are mainly focused on him at outside back. We're considering throwing him right into the mix tomorrow night [against San Jose]."
Regardless of what personnel decisions Kreis makes, he knows how important a win would be.
"This is the third time this season we have played a No. 1 vs. No. 2 — with San Jose earlier and Kansas City," Kreis said. "It will be nice to play that game at home. We need to be looking for a different result because we are 0-2 in those matches."