SANDY, Utah — When the starting lineups were announced ahead of Real Salt Lake's 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night, the diamond midfield was missing for the first time at Rio Tinto Stadium this year.
Manager Jason Kreis had decided the time was right to switch things up and he inserted three forwards as Alvaro Saborio, Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia would all take the pitch to start a match for the first time.
"I woke up Thursday morning really with a quandary on my hand about how to get fresh players on the field, and how to get some guys I think have been really, really good a starting opportunity without changing the spine of the team, so to speak," said Kreis in his postgame press conference. "It just dawned on me that, 'Let's try that 4-3-3 thing again.' And then watching Houston a little bit, seeing what they were bringing to the table, I thought it was the exact right opportunity."
The result was a full three points for RSL for the first time in four league games. It may not have been always pretty but the win feels just as good as any other given the circumstances.
"All in all, I'm really, really pleased that we got a result in a little different way tonight than we typically do," Kreis added. "It's important. I think it's really important as you start to enter the stretch and start to enter the playoffs, you have to feel like you can win in multiple ways."
So what did the players think of the switch?
"I thought it was great," defender Tony Beltran said. "Ned [Grabavoy] and Becks [Kyle Beckerman] do such a good job of keeping the ball, and it gives Javier [Morales] a little bit more freedom to move side to side and show up in dangerous spots. Having [Joao] Plata and [Olmes] Garcia out wide is just such a threat on both sides, just speed and precision with the ball. We are able to get them in a lot of dangerous areas. I like that formation. I like that we are able to, based on our opponents, have different options."
For the past six years, Kreis has always said he doesn't like to change for an opponent. He would rather have them adjust to how RSL play. But after ending the 2012 season on a five-game scoreless streak during which perhaps opponents had caught on to the RSL system and found a way to neutralize them, this may be the time to see if they could adapt in some ways.
"I think it is good that we are able to adjust and we are able to play some different formations. To get another three points in that formation was great," Beckerman said.
"I like the fact that we can play that," defender Chris Wingert said. "I still really like our diamond midfield and two up top. I've been here a while, and played in that system, you get comfortable with it. … But I like the fact that we can mix it up a little bit when the game calls for it. Jason [Kreis] has done a great job of picking and choosing times to switch it up and we have been pretty successful with it."
Michael Black covers Real Salt Lake for MLSsoccer.com.