SANDY — Shortly before Real Salt Lake marches out of the Rio Tinto Stadium tunnel for Tuesday’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis will chat briefly with his players in the locker room, reminding them one last time of the tactics and game plan against D.C. United.
Odds are high that the last thing Kreis tells his players before they march onto the pitch is something along the lines of, "Don’t, don’t, don’t, under any circumstances, take the next 90 minutes for granted."
It doesn’t matter that D.C. United has just three MLS wins this season and 36 fewer points than Real Salt Lake in the league standings. Tuesday’s 7 p.m. kickoff is a cup final, and Kreis will make sure his players are reminded that anything can happen.
“We cannot walk into this game assuming we are going to be walking out with a trophy. Otherwise we’ll be in the exact same position we did the last two times, which is watching somebody else celebrate with a trophy on our field,” said Kreis.
Kreis is referring to the 2008 Western Conference final against New York and the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey. On both occasions Real Salt Lake seemed like the favorite to lift the trophy, but it failed to score a goal in either game.
The Monterrey match will arguably go down as the most heartbreaking loss in the career of every Real Salt Lake player on the field that night, and Kreis believes a big reason why is that the players believed they were destined to win.
RSL had stunned Monterrey a week earlier by securing a 2-2 tie in Mexico, and a low-scoring draw or a win in the return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium — where RSL was unbeaten in 37 straight— was all the club needed for continental glory.
“You get to a point where you just think in your mind it’s easier than it is, and forget how hard it is to win no matter where it is. I’m hopeful that the third time at this we’ll get it right,” said Kreis.
Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Chris Winger, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy and Alvaro Saborio were all in the starting lineup against Monterrey back in April 2011, and Morales believes the experience gained in that loss can only help against D.C. United.
“I believe that game we were a little bit anxious to try and win. A lot of people were behind us and try to support us, so there was a lot of pressure, and we couldn’t control in that moment,” said RSL's central midfielder.
Real Salt Lake will definitely need to stay composed against an opponent that will likely bunker in defensively and hope for a moment of brilliance from its all-star-caliber players Dwayne DeRosario and Chris Pontius.
“We’re going to respect them. They’ve got good players, and they have guys who can hurt us,” said Borchers.
Ironically enough, one of D.C. United’s only three league wins this season came against Real Salt Lake back in March. The teams have been heading in opposite directions ever since, but somehow amid its woeful MLS season, D.C. United managed to string a few results together in Open Cup play to advance to the final.
Since beating Chicago 2-0 back on April 7 in the Open Cup semifinals, D.C. United is an abysmal 0-6-2 in league play.
D.C. United can save its season with a victory, but Real Salt Lake is just as hungry to win and secure a berth back into the CONCACAF Champions League next season.
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