Sandy • Robin Fraser would like to say there won't be anything strange about facing Real Salt Lake for the first time since leaving its coaching staff to take over a rebuilding project at Chivas USA.
But he just can't.
"It's going to be really bizarre," he said. "I don't even know where the visitors' locker room is at Rio Tinto Stadium."
At least, Fraser has plenty of friends who can point him in the right direction Saturday. As the longtime top assistant to RSL's Jason Kreis, the 44-year-old former national team defender cultivated many deep friendships while helping build one of the elite teams in Major League Soccer before leaving for his first head-coaching job after last season.
Several of the players he left behind praised Fraser this week as a good friend and a great coach "He was a big part of molding us into what we are now," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said and his former coaching mates were so close that they reunited last month for Easter dinner at the home of goalkeeping coach Jeff Cassar.
"Those are such great guys, and I've had such great relationships with them," Fraser said. "Those will never fade away, no matter what side of the ball we're on."
Just the same, both coaches have jobs to do.
While Kreis tries to get RSL back on the winning track after the disappointment of losing in the Champions League he has had time to come to terms with Fraser leaving, he said, after having a difficult time initially Fraser is busy rebuilding what had been one of the worst teams in the league.
The Goats finished 8-18-4 last season and lost three straight games to start this season.
Since then, though, they have assembled a five-game unbeaten streak with victories in their last two games. They allowed just two goals in those five games, too, illustrating how Fraser perhaps predictably, as a former defender is building from the back precisely the way RSL did.
"I just don't know that there's any other way," Kreis said.
National-team defender Heath Pearce has been hugely important for the Goats since joining them in a trade from FC Dallas, along with fellow defenders Ante Jazic and Zarek Valentin, the fourth pick of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Injuries have forced a constant lineup shuffle, but goalkeeper Dan Kennedy has been a steady force after overtaking former goalkeeper of the year Zach Thornton for the starting job.
"We certainly had an eye toward getting as solid as we could back there, as fast as we could," Fraser said.
When he left RSL, Fraser said he felt as if he had seen and experienced everything he would need to become a good head coach.
But he has discovered that it's much harder as the boss to focus strictly on the game in front of him, because there are so many other things he must consider in order to succeed. Yet that's also part of the challenge he enjoys, "figuring out how you're going to make your team better" and trying to build a team that can be "sustainable" over the long haul.
That, he knows from experience.
He helped Kreis build RSL from doormat to league champion in barely two years, and Fraser believes the team he departed is even better than it was last year, when it nearly won the Supporters Shield regular-season title and led the league in both scoring and defense.
Its players have hardly lost any affection for him, either, even though they will be out to beat him, this time.
"We all know him from when he was here and how intelligent a soccer coach he is and what a great football mind" he has, defender Robbie Russell said. "It's always great to see him, because he's a great guy."
Real Salt Lake vs. Chivas USA
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • 2 p.m.
TV • Telefutura
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
Records • RSL 4-1-0, Chivas USA 2-2-3
All-Time Series • Chivas leads, 9-5-4
Last Meeting • RSL 1, Chivas 1 (July 24, 2010)
About RSL • It's coming off its first league loss in 18 regular-season games dating to last season, and trying to extend its only remaining unbeaten streak, 27 games at home in regular-season league play. … Midfielder Javier Morales has two goals and two assists, along with injured forward Paulo Junior. … It has lost only one of the last six meetings with Chivas, going 3-1-2 in that span. … The team has scored 13 of its 20 league goals this season after halftime, and won 13 straight games when leading at halftime.
About the Goats • Veteran forward Alejandro Moreno leads them with three goals and two assists, after joining the team in a trade from Vancouver, which pried him from Philadelphia in the expansion draft. … They have allowed only six goals in seven games, including two in the last five. … Forward Justin Braun of Salt Lake City has yet to score this season. … Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy has anchored their five-game unbeaten streak, after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries.