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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Real Salt Lake reaches CONCACAF quarterfinals with tie at Toronto

(by Steven Sandor desnews.com 9-28-10)

Javier Morales recovered from a bad knee in the nick of time.

Introduced as a substitute at halftime of Tuesday's night's CONCACAF Champions League game against Toronto, Real Salt Lake's midfield general got a clutch free-kick goal that gave Real Salt Lake a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC, and the single point required to send RSL to the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Morales had missed the last four games through a mix of suspension time and a knee problem.

Morales' goal was the first time a Real Salt Lake player has scored at BMO Field since Toronto FC came into existence in 2007. That's a total of 428 minutes of scoreless soccer in Canada's largest city. RSL drew 0-0 with the Reds when they met in MLS play Aug. 28.

With a 2-0 win over Arabe Unido on Tuesday, Cruz Azul also clinched a spot in the quarters, transforming their mid-October group stage game in Sandy into a meaningless friendly.

Not that coach Jason Kreis will be complaining. He rested five of his regulars in Saturday's 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids so he could field the best possible lineup for the Toronto game, ensuring that his club could focus on MLS down the stretch.

But his plan went awry when bad weather scuttled the team's connecting flight in Atlanta on Sunday. Instead of arriving in Toronto on Sunday night, half the team still hadn't crossed the border on Monday morning. They arrived on a number of planes through the day. Kreis was forced to cancel practice and couldn't evaluate if Morales was ready to return or not.

"It's hard to describe how difficult the travel situation was," said Kreis.

Before the match, Morales went through a quick fitness test, but neither player nor coach had any idea how his knee would hold up.

But, after a goal from former Colorado Rapid Jacob Peterson — his first as a TFC player — gave the Reds a 1-0 halftime lead, Kreis and Morales agreed that it was time to roll the dice.

"Absolutely, it was a big gamble," said Kreis. "The question was, how many minutes could he last?"

"It was a risk we had to take," Morales said. "I felt OK. I wasn't sure that I could go 45 minutes, but we were lucky — everything was good."

In the 68th minute, Morales smashed a free kick over the defensive wall. TFC midfielder Julian de Guzman had a chance to head it off the line, but the ball skidded off the top of his head — it deflected slightly but still found the back of the net.

TFC had de Guzman, who is 5-foot-7, on the goal line, rather than a tall defender. It was a mistake that cost the home team dearly,

Had Morales not pulled RSL out of the fire, the final group-stage game with Cruz Azul would have been a nailbiter. Because the Mexican side had already clinched its quarterfinal spot, it likely would not have started its best lineup. But RSL would have gone into that game without captain Kyle Beckerman, who will serve a yellow-card accumulation suspension after he was cautioned for kicking de Guzman long after the ball had gone.

Instead, Beckerman will miss a meaningless game.

"We're an extremely pleased team right now, to accomplish one of our major, major goals this season," said Kreis.

Peterson opened the scoring after taking a 50-yard throw from keeper Jon Conway. Toronto FC rested starter Stefan Frei, the MLS saves leader, but Conway was solid in his place.

Will Johnson, Real Salt Lake's Canadian midfielder, laid out to try and intercept the pass, but the ball got by him. Because Johnson went to the turf, it allowed Peterson to lead a two-on-one break into the RSL half, and he buried a perfect shot just inside keeper Nick Rimando's left post.

Rimando made an outstanding save on a 20-yard curling drive from Dwayne De Rosario in the second half, keeping the game at 1-0, allowing Morales the chance to perform his heroics.

Only 10,581 fans turned up for the game — the smallest crowd in TFC history.

Toronto FC coach Nick Dasovic said he wasn't concerned about the turnout.

"Anywhere you go in CONCACAF, there hasn't been great crowds," he said.

Classic Argentine national team photo

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mastroeni stuffs.....while teammates act the fool

After a Colorado victory over Salt Lake in 2006 Mastroeni, for some bizarre reason, decided to stuff his shorts with his jersey in front of the RSL fans. Dude.......


Fools


Dave Checketts didn't appreciate Mastroeni's lude behavior and confronted him on the field. Hell ya Uncle Dave!

Borchers celebrates with RSL supporters




I have to admit, the tattoos scare me. As well as the mustache.

Real Salt Lake leads group after beating Arabe Unido


(typical play from Arabe)



(by James Edward desnews.com 9-22-10)

Thanks to a gutty performance in Central America, Real Salt Lake is on the doorstep of advancing out of CONCACAF Champions League group play.

Despite conceding an early goal yet again, RSL responded quickly to build a two-goal halftime lead and then hung on for the 3-2 victory over Arabe Unido in Panama City on Wednesday night.

With the victory, Real Salt Lake now leads Group A with nine points through four matches. Cruz Azul sits in second with seven points, followed by Toronto FC with four and Arabe Unido with three.

"It's one step closer to getting to what is a huge priority for us to advance out of this tournament, but I also know the work is not done. We can't take a breather," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.

RSL's next Champions League match is at Toronto on Sept. 28, and it wraps up group play on Oct. 19 at home against Cruz Azul. A tie in either match should be more than enough for RSL to clinch a spot in the CCL quarterfinals next February.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was another shaky start Wednesday night for Real Salt Lake. Just like in its previous three matches, RSL allowed the first goal — this one shockingly early as Arabe Unido scored in the second minute on a free kick by Williams Aguilar.

Kreis didn't want to harp too much on the early goal because he believes the foul that led to the free kick was "very suspect."

The way his team responded to the adversity was what Kreis was most pleased about. RSL never panicked, and by halftime the visitors led comfortably as Will Johnson scored twice and Alvaro Saborio tacked on his sixth goal of the tournament.

Johnson worked his tail off for his 10th minute equalizer. He relentlessly applied pressure on a pair of Arabe Unido defenders near the end line, eventually deflecting the ball toward goal, and after Fabian Espindola's initial toe poke was saved, Johnson was there to tap it into the empty net.

"A lot of good things happen because he works so hard," said Kreis.

In the 36th minute, Saborio headed in a Nelson Gonzalez corner kick to put RSL ahead 2-1, and two minutes before halftime, Saborio set up Johnson for the 3-1 lead.

"I'm really pleased with the response of the group," said Kreis. "It showed a really positive response on our part, no panic."

The second half got a bit too hectic for Kreis' liking, however. In the 53rd minute, Tony Beltran was whistled for a foul in the box, and Mario Angulo converted the penalty kick to cut the deficit to 3-2.

RSL dropped back defensively the final 15 minutes into a 4-5-1 formation to protect the lead as Jean Alexandre entered the match for Saborio.

Perhaps the only negative to come out of the match was Espindola's red card from the bench late in the match after he had played 60 minutes early in the match. He'll be forced to miss next week's match at Toronto as will Gonzalez for yellow card accumulation.

The win was all the more satisfying for Real Salt Lake considering several key starters didn't even travel with the team.

Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Andy Williams did not travel because Kreis believes they deserved some much-needed rest, while Javier Morales didn't travel because of a quad injury.

"I feel good again that we've been able to insert some players, develop a rotation and get some results," said Kreis.

Chris Schulter started in place of Nat Borchers, and he's quickly establishing himself as a viable option at center back despite being a rookie.

RSL returns home today and will have to immediately shift its focus back to Major League Soccer as it hosts rival Colorado Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.

In the midst of a 23-game home unbeaten streak, RSL needs to secure the full three points against the Rapids to continue to put pressure on the L.A. Galaxy, who enjoy a three-point cushion at the top of the MLS table.

Real Salt Lake proving title more than a fluke

(by Brad Rock desnews.com 9-15-10)

So this much we know about Real Salt Lake in its post-MLS Cup season: That championship was no shot in the dark. RSL has the second-best record in the league this year.

So what about someone else's league? How would the Claret and Cobalt fare there?

It's trying to find out.

Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL continued in CONCACAF Champions League play with a 4-1 win against Toronto FC. It took awhile, but once RSL got going, it looked like a club with a global plan.

Break out the vuvuzelas.

If you're wondering what Real is doing interrupting a perfectly good MLS season to play a club from north of the border three times in a month — two of them not counting in league play — the reason is this: international glory.

Sure, it's cheesy, but this is soccer.

Glory is its middle name.

"We're establishing ourselves in this country, and now it's important to try to establish ourselves in the region," said defender Chris Wingert.

By winning the MLS Cup last year, RSL qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League group stage, which began last month. Wednesday's was the third for RSL in CONCACAF competition.

For those who tune into international soccer as often as they read junk mail, this is how it works: CONCACAF is the governing body of soccer teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Teams qualify for the Champions League playoffs by winning in their own leagues.

CONCACAF is one of six continental regions. Hence, in the unlikely event that RSL were to advance out of CONCACAF to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in 2011, it could ultimately meet one of the biggest names in global sports. The last three winners were FC Barcelona, Manchester United and AC Milan. To put that into an American frame of reference, that's like facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Yankees or Los Angeles Lakers — at once.

It's the next-biggest thing to winning the World Cup, where nations, not clubs, compete.

If there is anything more ubiquitous to world soccer than vuvuzeas — those annoying, blatting horns — it's acronyms and abbreviations. For some reason, the soccer loves them, and the longer the better. If these were any longer, they could double as an eye chart. CONCACAF stands for Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football. But that's just getting started. In other regions there are CONMEBOC (South America), CAF (Africa), EUFA (Europe/Asia), AFC (Asia/Orient) and OFC (Oceania).

And you thought boxing's system was complicated.

While American teams have done fairly well in CONCACAF competition (the L.A. Galaxy won in 2000, two years after D.C. United prevailed), they have never won the FIFA Club World Cup. In the first three efforts (2000, 2005 and 2006), Brazilian teams got all the glory (there's that word again). In 2007, it was AC Milan, followed the next year by Manchester United and FC Barcelona.

Of course, anyone who brings that up with RSL players will end up whiffing. Nobody's going to look that far ahead. That's an unthinkable dream. Still, you have to start someplace. Thus, RSL continued its quest for world (or at least regional) fame by hosting Toronto, Wednesday. Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola were out with injuries. At the same time, Toronto was recovering from firing its coach, Tuesday.

Salt Lake didn't appear especially well rested at least at the start. The match was the beginning of six games in 18 days and part of a grueling 14-game, 56-day stretch. RSL looked sluggish and uninspired early. It took just eight minutes for Toronto to score the first goal.

"All we did was talk about having a great start and it tuned out to be one of our worst starts of the year," said Wingert.

But two makeup goals in the first half quickly restored order.

Still, Wednesday's match was likely the easy part of this month. There's more to come. A lot more. That cushy once-a-week schedule people are accustomed to seeing?

Pay no attention.

That's for teams whose sights only reach as far as their own borders

Borchers levitates

Real Salt Lake extends regular-season home unbeaten run to 24



(by John Coon desnews.com 9-25-10)

Fatigue threatened to finally take down Real Salt Lake and end its brilliant run at home until help arrived from an unexpected source.

On the strength of a stoppage time goal from Nat Borchers, RSL rallied to salvage a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. It extended the club's MLS-record setting home unbeaten streak to 24 games and helped Salt Lake pull to within two points of the Los Angeles Galaxy in the chase for the Supporters' Shield.

A game-changing goal coming from Borchers seemed like an unlikely confluence of events. He had not scored a goal during the 2010 season in MLS action and the 93rd minute seemed like an unlikely time to find the net.

Still, Borchers became the man of the hour when he got his head under a long ball served into the penalty area by Andy Williams and flicked it backward into the net.

"He puts those things in there on a dime," Borchers said. "I probably couldn't have missed it, even though I've missed some pretty clear chances this year already."

Borchers joked that the Vegas odds on him making that goal would be "1,000 to 1." Initially, he had to outjump a Rapids defender just to even get a piece of the ball.

"I just thought that ball was going to be a little bit out of my reach," Borchers said. "I just put a little extra effort and stretched my neck out and got the end of it."

In the end, it helped Salt Lake get a favorable result on a night where fatigue threatened to finally exact a toll.

RSL did a good job of controlling possession in the first half even while sitting several regular starters – including Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio and Nick Rimando. Real generated seven corner kicks compared to for Colorado and they doubled up the Rapids 8-4 in shots on goal.

Those nice stats didn't matter though when Colorado seized a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute. The Rapids went ahead when Connor Casey latched onto a cross from Kosuke Kimura and popped a header past backup RSL keeper Kyle Reynish.

The goal ended Salt Lake's shutout streak at a season best 568 minutes and was the first goal the team had allowed in MLS play since a 1-1 draw at Philadelphia on August 11th.

Still, RSL coach Jason Kreis felt no measure of disappointment in surrendering a point as a result of the early goal because he saw what he believed was a valiant effort on three days' rest after Wednesday's match in Panama.

"We knew we needed to play a lot of new guys that haven't played matches regularly," Kreis said. "There's going to be some fatigue involved. I'm really pleased with the minutes they gave us, but I think they were running out of gas a little bit."

Getting that goal back meant a great deal to RSL, especially after enduring one missed scoring opportunity after another in the half.

"We played way better than they did, so we deserved at least a tie," Real forward Pablo Campos said.

Indeed, Colorado was fortunate not to give up more than a single goal after halftime.

Fabian Espindola alone had a pair of near misses in the second half.

Fabian Espindola latched onto a through ball from Kyle Beckerman in the 68th minute and drew Rapids keeper Matt Pickens off the line for a potential one-on-one challenge. Rapids defender Drew Moor reached the ball at the same time, though, and broke up the play.

The other opportunity came in the 77th minute when Will Johnson swung a corner kick to Espindola on the right upper corner of the 6-yard box. Espindola settled the ball and blasted it at the left post. He tried to hook his shot under the crossbar, but it sailed wide of the post instead.

Williams nearly blasted one home himself in the 55th minute when, after a couple of dribbles, he dialed one in from long distance. Pickens hurried toward the shot and knocked the ball down. But he didn't wrap it up and it nearly took a friendly bounce across the line anyway before being cleared away to set up a corner kick.

The biggest missed opportunity though came after the referee Ramon Hernandez reversed a handball infraction called on Marvell Wynne inside the six in the 88th minute. Instead of lining up for a penalty kick, RSL played a drop ball instead.

"I'm not sure how you make a penalty call like that and then change your mind," Kreis said. "It's puzzling to me."

Real Salt Lake beats Chicago, breaks MLS record

(by James Edward desnews.com 9-18-10)

Saturday was supposed to be a special day at Rio Tinto Stadium.

A tie was all Real Salt Lake needed to extend its home unbeaten streak to 23 straight and set a new standard in Major League Soccer.

The club ultimately took care of business with a 1-0 win over Chicago, but there was nothing magical about the performance. At times it looked like Real Salt Lake was simply going through the motions.

"It was a weird game; it felt like our energy level was bad from the start," said Ned Grabavoy.

When it was all said and done, the lack of energy didn't matter. Alvaro Saborio's penalty kick shortly before halftime was plenty of cushion against a Chicago team that played the final 45 minutes with only 10 men.

Why his team didn't pounce on the shorthanded Fire and create a party atmosphere in front of 14,449 fans was frustrating for coach Jason Kreis.

"First and foremost the energy level was extremely low today, and I think there's a lot of reasons why that I understand and can agree with and accept," said Kreis. "But being the type of person of I am and being a coach, I want better out of my group every day."

He usually does get better, and that's why Rio Tinto Stadium has become such a fortress. With the victory, RSL surpasses Columbus' previous record of 22 straight home games without a defeat. During the streak it has outscored the opposition a staggering 48-11.

After the match, Real Salt Lake's players filed onto the stage at the south end of the stadium and thanked the fans as an enormous "Reign of Real" banner was raised.

RSL captain Kyle Beckerman proudly declared to the fans, "We don't plan on it ending anytime soon."

Just like it has most of the season, defense was the catalyst behind another home victory.

The shutout was RSL's fifth straight and 13th of the season. It hasn't surrendered a goal since the eighth minute of a 1-1 draw at Philadelphia on Aug. 11, a streak of 532 minute. It's the second longest shutout streak in MLS this year behind its own 567-minute streak from May 29 to July 17 of this season.

"You don't get shutouts and have a good defense by talking about getting shutouts, you get it by talking about the details of what you have to do, which is a lot of things," said Chris Wingert.

Real Salt Lake outshot Chicago 17-5, but not one of the visitor's shots were on frame as keeper Nick Rimando wasn't called upon to make a save.

Despite RSL's lethargy much of the match, Chicago keeper Sean Johnson had plenty to do. He was helpless, however, to do anything about Saborio's powerful penalty kick in the 45th minute.

The freebie was set up when Ned Grabavoy outran Chicago defender Wilman Conde to a Saborio through ball in the box. Perhaps needlessly, Conde tugged Grabavoy to the ground and the referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Conde received a yellow card for the foul, his second of the match resulting in an automatic ejection, reducing the Fire to 10 men.

Chicago seemed resigned to its fate in the second half, but RSL failed to exploit it with a multi-goal effort.

"It was one of those things where after the game all the fans are happy, but I don't think there are guys in here who are necessarily pleased with how we played," said Grabavoy.

RSL's last home loss was a 2-0 setback to Kansas City on May 16, 2009. It improved to 13-4-8 (47 points) with the win, temporarily vaulting into a first-place tie with the L.A. Galaxy for the best record in MLS.

It was likely only temporary as several hours later the L.A. Galaxy hosted MLS bottom feeder D.C. United.

Turnstile count reflects RSL’s growing presence in marketplace

(by Michael C. Lewis sltrib.com 9-24-10)

It’s yet another sign that Real Salt Lake is growing up.

When the defending MLS Cup champions take on the rival Colorado Rapids at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, they will be going almost head-to-head with two of the biggest sports draws in the market. The Utah Utes and BYU Cougars will be playing college football home games at about the same time, yet the soccer team still is expecting a strong crowd of about 16,000 fans — a clear indication it’s a legitimate player in the local sports scene with an increasingly devoted audience.

“We’ve really developed a core group of fans for whom we’re their No. 1 option,” team president Bill Manning said.

Not that RSL wants to go against the top dogs every weekend.

College football and the NBA’s Utah Jazz remain by far the most popular sports events in the Salt Lake City area, as evidenced by the massive crowds they draw to home games.

But little by little, RSL is reaping the benefits of an increasingly mature and independent fan base that doesn’t need to be dragged away from football to watch futbol. Its average attendance is 16,760 — highest since its inaugural season in 2005 — and growing, up about 2.5 percent from its first full season in Rio Tinto Stadium last year.

“There are soccer lovers everywhere,” midfielder Andy Williams said. “We transformed a bunch of people into loving us, and it always helps when you’re champions.”

Certainly, that has helped immensely.

Winning the title last season delivered a strong measure of credibility to a team that had flopped around miserably for so long — fans went “through hell” watching it in the early years, Williams said — even though many skeptics derided its accomplishment as a fluke, following a mediocre regular season.

But RSL has backed up the championship with the best regular season in its history.

It has racked up a team-record 47 points in the standings from a 13-4-8 record with still five games remaining, and set a league record with its 23-game regular-season unbeaten streak at home. It can clinch a playoff spot with a victory against the Rapids — you mean the team won’t wait until the last day of the season? — and remain in the hunt for the Supporters Shield regular-season title.

“One word I got for you,” Manning said. “Winning.”

“What’s interesting now is that the evolution of our team has come so far that when we tie a game, people are pissed off,” he added. “For the most part, people come to watch us play and they go home happy. … We’ve really come a long, long way.”

Yet there remains work to be done.

General manager Garth Lagerwey is wary of too much self-congratulation, noting that while RSL is “making progress” on improving its fan base, “we are still very date-driven and event-driven, and less opponent-driven and star-driven.”

What that means is that while the BYU Cougars might be able to draw 60,000 fans to a football game in a snowstorm on Halloween night, RSL is hardly in the same position. It still has to hope for decent weather and provide attractive dates and game times (and sometimes, fireworks) to assure its biggest crowds.

But the discussion within the organization has changed.

Anymore, Manning said, team officials are wondering how to “become Toronto.”

“We feel we’ve arrived, I guess, as a franchise,” he said. “So how can we now take that next step as a franchise? How can we break through the plateau and become a Toronto?”

The Reds are one of the most popular teams in MLS, drawing an average of 20,665 fans per game — that’s second, behind the Seattle Sounders and their massive 36,167 average — despite having never reached the playoffs.

To reach that level of support, Manning said, RSL probably needs to boost its number of season-ticket holders from just under 7,000 to about 10,000.

Then, “all the sudden we’re approaching a sellout nearly every game,” based on the number of individual and group tickets the team usually sells, as well.

So that’s down the line.

For the moment, the team is pleased to know that it still will have a nice crowd for the game against its biggest rival, despite everything else happening on what’s expected to be a beautiful fall evening.

“That’s awesome,” coach Jason Kreis said. “We all know how much those universities and those football programs are loved, so it’s significant, that’s for sure.”

Chicago's Section 8 Mario Brothers tifo vs Seattle

RSL supporters vs Colorado

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crew fans enjoy the away section at RFK

Chivas streamers, Chivas headache

Opps, I originally thought this was Colorado's goalkeeper until FCBeast brought my attention to the fact that it is Chivas' own goalkeeper. I could have sworn that was the Rapids logo on his jersey, I guess my eyes are getting worse than I thought.

Dude.............

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Real Salt Lake ties MLS record with victory

(by James Edward 9-5-10)

There was nothing overwhelming about Real Salt Lake's performance Saturday night.

In fact, a week from now the 19,115 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium will probably have a hard time recalling what actually happened.

That's just fine according to Real Salt Lake.

Though it wasn't pretty, they played well enough to beat New York 1-0 and in the process join some pretty elite company in the MLS record books. The victory extended RSL's home unbeaten streak to 22 straight, tying the league record set by Columbus from 2008 to 2009.

"The three points is the biggest thing. The home record is great, but getting the shutout is just as fantastic for us," said defender Nat Borchers.

RSL's 11th shutout of the season did wonders for its prospects of winning the MLS Supporters' Shield. Los Angeles tied Chicago on Saturday, and combined with RSL's win and Columbus' win over D.C. United, L.A. and Columbus are tied atop the standings with 44 points followed closely by RSL's 43 points.

"That's our goal right now, we're in contention and we're going to fight for it until the end," said Borchers.

Saturday's game couldn't have started off any better for Real Salt Lake.

Fabian Espindola put RSL in front 1-0 in the fourth minute by slotting a shot past New York keeper Greg Sutton after outrunning defender Tim Ream to a long ball form Kyle Beckerman.

"We started out the game like it was going to be a fantastic performance by us, and I really thought it was going to be a special night," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.

RSL had chances throughout the first half to make it a special night, most notably Robbie Findley's point blank header in the 37th minute that was saved by Sutton.

Despite dominating the opening half, in many ways RSL was lucky to be leading. In the 33rd minute Nick Rimando misjudged the bounce of a Juan Pablo Angel header on a corner kick, with the ball skipping over his hands. Andy Williams, however, was right there to save Rimando from a major gaffe as he cleared the goal-bound shot off the line and out for a corner kick.

It was the first of two moments in which an RSL midfielder was in the right place at the right time.

Eleven minutes into the second half Beckerman cleared another New York shot off the line to preserve the shutout. Rimando did fantastic to initially deny Angel's powerful header, but his diving save bounced around in front of the goal mouth before Beckerman finally sent it to safety.

For most of the second half New York was the better team, with Kreis saying his players lacked the same defensive grit as it displayed in the first half.

It hunkered down nonetheless and earned the shutout, but it could've been much less stressful.

"Early goal is always good. But I feel the game could've been done in the first half, and instead we don't score another goal and it gets a little interesting in the second half and they start pushing more numbers forward," said Beckerman.

Findley could've put the game away in the 73rd minute, but his struggles continued as he sent a close-range shot wide of the target with only the keeper to beat.

The striker, who's been feeling ill since RSL's trip to Mexico last week, was replaced a minute later by Nelson Gonzalez as Kreis tried to settle the team down.

"I'm not thrilled with the way that we finished the match, but I'm extremely thrilled with the result," Kreis said.

Real Salt Lake has another short turnaround as it visits the Seattle Sounders on Thursday in the ESPN2 MLS game of the week.

Real Salt Lake chasing MLS history against Red Bulls

(by James Edward deseretnews.com 9-3-10)

Real Salt Lake will try and make history tonight.

Twenty-one straight Major League Soccer teams have walked out of Rio Tinto Stadium winless, and by adding the New York Red Bulls to that list this evening, RSL will tie the MLS record with a 22-game home unbeaten streak.

Don't expect the Red Bulls to be intimidated in the slightest.

Their four road wins are the second-most in MLS, and they recently halted another impressive home streak with a 4-1 win at Toronto. The victory snapped Toronto's 17-game home unbeaten streak.

"We know we have to win no matter what," said Fabian Espindola.

Realistically, Espindola and his teammates are less concerned about tying Columbus' league record and more concerned about keeping pace in the race for the MLS Supporters' Shield for the best regular-season record.

Two months ago, it looked as if Los Angeles would run away with the Shield. But lately, Real Salt Lake, Columbus, FC Dallas and New York have all climbed to within six points or less of the Galaxy. RSL coach Jason Kreis still believes L.A. is the favorite, with six of its final eight games at home, but by no means is he conceding the trophy.

He's quick to point out that the David Beckham-led Galaxy were favorites in last year's MLS Cup as well.

RSL needs the full three points against New York to keep that dream alive.

"It's a massive, massive match for us," said Kreis. "We're very excited about it."

Real Salt Lake should be well-rested. The globe-trotting club played matches in Mexico and Toronto last week, but it's had a week to recharge emotionally and physically for its match against the second-place team in the East.

Despite a heartbreaking 5-4 loss in Mexico City, RSL is feeling pretty good about itself after rebounding and earning a scoreless draw at Toronto last Saturday.

"The response and positive feeling we got from that match was probably more important than the point itself," said Kreis.

Neither team, unfortunately, will have a full complement of players to choose from.

RSL be without Alvaro Saborio and Will Johnson, who are each away with their respective international teams this weekend. New York, meanwhile, will be missing four starters. New signee Rafael Marquez is away with the Mexico National Team, while Dane Richards (Jamaica), Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) and Roy Miller (Costa Rica) are also away.

The six absences detract from what had the potential to be one of the best matches in MLS this season.

"It's disappointing to look at the game and say there's going to be players missing ... especially at this point in the season. You come down to the last hurdle, the last stretch, you hope everybody can push out their strongest side," said Kreis.

This weekend is an official FIFA international date, and clubs have to release their players if they're called up by their respective international teams. The void left by the absence of Saborio, who leads the team with eight goals, and Johnson, the engine of the midfield, will once again put RSL's depth to the test.

In its five-year history, Real Salt Lake has only beaten New York once, a 2-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium last year. The Red Bulls lead the all-time series 3-1-6.

Real Salt Lake: Star Thierry Henry sings praises of champions RSL

(by James Edward deseretnews.com 9-2-10)

Thierry Henry has been around long enough to avoid providing bulletin-board fodder for the opposition.

When addressing the Utah media in a conference call Thursday, the New York striker referred to Real Salt Lake as the champs nearly a half a dozen times.

"We know it's going to be a very difficult game, they really play very well at home. They're the champions. We're going to have to be up for it," said Henry, a international superstar who joined MLS earlier this summer.

Henry, 33, signed with the Red Bulls after the World Cup and he's started six matches, registering one goal and three assists. The former Arsenal and Barcelona star will get his seventh start this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium when RSL hosts New York.

Since Henry's arrival New York is 3-1-2 and has climbed to within four points of Columbus atop the Eastern Conference standings.

As a whole, Henry has been pleasantly surprised by the level of play in MLS.

"The league is very competitive, very hard, especially to play away from home. Every time we've played a team the team was trying to play football which was a great thing to see," he said.

Real Salt Lake — particularly at Rio Tinto Stadium — does that as well as any team in MLS. It's a fact not lost on Henry.

Even though the team lacks a big-money designated player, Henry is impressed by how well organized RSL is and how the players compete as a team.

"They're a great team," he said.

RSL coach Jason Kreis believes the same thing is happening at New York. Since the summer arrival of Henry and Mexican star Rafael Marquez — who will miss Saturday's match because of international duty — Kreis believes the Red Bulls are a much better team.

"It's a really, really strong group. It's a team that looks like it's enjoying their soccer right now. I think that the whole group was re-energized by the addition of Henry and Marquez, and in particular (Juan Pablo) Angel looks to me to be a brighter player since those guys have joined."

RSL keeper Nick Rimando knows it will be a big challenge.

The last thing he wants to see Saturday night is a dynamic player like Henry dribbling toward him in open space, but at the same time Rimando is a competitive individual and he'd welcome the opportunity.

Big picture, Rimando is thrilled to see a player with Henry's credentials here in MLS.

"I think it's great. If the owner can pay that money to a player like that, that wants to continue to play and not just come here for a vacation I think it's always good to get players like that in this league," he said. "He's still the same player, the ball's at his feet he's going to do the special things that he does."

Even though he's happy to be in MLS, Henry insists he's not 100 percent and probably won't be until next season after his body truly gets an offseason.

Following the end of the La Liga season in May with Barcelona, Henry immediately began training with France for the World Cup. A few weeks after France's quick exit, he was in New York ready to join the Red Bulls.

"It's kind of difficult to arrive in midseason and you don't have any kind of preseason. I arrived from my holidays and I had to play straight away without having any preparation or anything, that's the most difficult thing for me to deal with," he said.

He says facing "the champs" will be very difficult as well.