Sandy • Goalkeeper Nick Rimando said it best, reflecting on how nice it was to finally return to Real Salt Lake after weeks away with the U.S. national team.
"Even the ugly guys on our team look good," he said with a smile.
And so it was, when the four internationals who had been away returned to RSL training on the eve of its first game in what seems like forever, at Chivas USA on Saturday. Forward Alvaro Saborio and midfielders Will Johnson and Kyle Beckerman joined Rimando in running through a training session Friday all of them with a chance to play against the Goats.
"It's been great, really just to get around the guys again, see the old faces," Beckerman said. "It was fun this morning, and I'm really just looking forward to getting back on track and get back to winning ways with us."
Not that the team has fallen off much.
For one thing, it has played only one Major League Soccer game in the last five weeks.
Besides that, few other teams have played much, either, and RSL remains in first place in the MLS Western Conference standings with a 9-3-2 record and 29 points.
The Goats, meanwhile, are 4-6-3 for 15 points under coach Robin Fraser the former RSL assistant under head coach Jason Kreis and riding a four-game unbeaten streak, mostly since trading for exciting young forward Juan Agudelo and veteran defender Danny Califf last month.
The Goats also have won two U.S. Open Cup matches, advancing to the quarterfinals of the tournament from which RSL crashed out with a stunning home loss to minor-league Minnesota in the third round last month.
"They've done a fantastic job of improving that team, as I knew Robin would," Kreis said. "He's made some really good decisions on his acquisitions. They're a better team. They're a deeper team. They're more, I think, dynamic in the attacking half of the field now which I think they were really struggling with in the first quarter of the season."
And Chivas managed to snap a five-game losing streak against RSL when it claimed a 1-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium back in March only the sixth home league loss in five years for RSL.
Rimando said that loss still "stands out in our mind a little bit," and that "everybody took that to heart a little bit when we lost at home in front of our fans" especially to Fraser, who "knows how to play against us, and knows our players."
"There's a little bit extra [motivation] there," Rimando said.
Kreis will be happy to hear that.
The coach said he was eager for the chance to exact revenge against the Goats and his good friend Fraser.
"I'm up for it," he said. "I'm big-time up for it. They beat us on our home field, and I take that a little bit personally, to be honest. And I hope that my entire team feels the same way and we go into this game with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder."
Real Salt Lake at Chivas USA
P At the Home Depot Center (Carson, Calif.)
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • Ch. 4
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 102.3 FM
Records • RSL 9-3-2, Chivas USA 4-6-3
Regular-season series • Chivas leads 10-7-4
Last meeting • Chivas 1, RSL 0 (March 24, 2012)
About RSL • It's riding a six-game unbeaten streak. … Forward Alvaro Saborio leads the team with six goals, while forward Fabian Espindola has four. … Midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson just rejoined the team from international duty, along with Saborio and goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
About the Goats • They're riding a four-game unbeaten streak. … Forwards Juan Pablo Angel and Jose Correa lead the team with two goals each. … They've scored only nine goals in 13 games. … Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy has a 1.08 goals-against average.