Sandy • A commanding victory, or a simple shutout.
That's what Real Salt Lake needs in its final group-stage game in the CONCACAF Champions League next month, in order to advance to the tournament's knockout rounds in the spring.
"I'd like to be 3-0, and make it really easy," coach Jason Kreis said.
That would do it, for sure.
But RSL only needs either a 1-0 victory over CS Herediano of Costa Rica in its final group game at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 23, or a victory by two goals or more because of tiebreaking procedures.
The team lost its game at Herediano, 1-0 in July, but Herediano beat Tauro FC of Panama only 2-1 at home on Tuesday night, creating the scenario for RSL.
"It wasn't the perfect result, but it was a good one," Kreis said.
The crucial game is just four days before RSL's regular-season Major League Soccer finale against Vancouver, though, creating the possibility that the team will have to gear up quickly for another must-win game to ensure it doesn't fall into the new wild-card game in the MLS playoffs.
"At the end of the day," defender Nat Borchers said, "we just have to go for it."
The road ahead
With just four regular-season league games remaining, RSL is sitting in a tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy for second place in the MLS Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Seattle Sounders, who have played one fewer game.
The team wants to stay above fourth place to avoid a new wild-card playoff game.
If it does that, it will meet either the Galaxy or Sounders in the playoffs two teams they will play in their last four regular-season games. RSL plays at Los Angeles on Oct. 6, and at Seattle on Oct. 17.
"They're all pretty big, given our position in the standings," Borchers said.
If RSL falls to fourth, it will play the fifth-place team probably Vancouver or FC Dallas in the wild-card game, with the winner meeting presumptive conference champion San Jose in the next round.
Defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe remains out for the league game at Chivas USA on Saturday with a groin strain, and midfielder Ned Grabavoy could join him on the shelf after injuring his right quadriceps during training Wednesday.
Team officials said Grabavoy is "day to day" after sitting out the last portion of practice at America First Field.
Get up there
Kreis made an emphatic point to his players several times during their workout Wednesday that they have to do a better job getting forward and not leaving open space in front of the net.
That's been a concern for a while now.
"They won't score goals unless they get in front of the goal, to start with," Kreis said. "We have a tendency sometimes to make that really nice pass and then watch, rather than join in and keep the right numbers in the attack."
Kreis mostly blames the fatigue of a long season.
But he also said a troublesome defensive stretch during the summer helped create midfielders "who don't want to join in the attacks because they want to be there defensively, create that shield in front of their own goal. Which is fine, but it's not really our style."
Back on the line
Defender Chris Schuler is in position to make just his second start since recovering from a foot injury, with fellow center back Jamison Olave suspended for the Chivas game due to yellow-card accumulation.
"It's just fun being back out at practice," Schuler said. "I really enjoy this job."
Schuler had a stress reaction in his foot that simply needed rest and time to heal, and it kept him out for most of the season. He couldn't stand to be around when he couldn't play, so while his teammates trained, he spent his time swimming or biking or running in the pool to stay fit.
"The only way I was able to get through it was taking it one day at a time," he said, "not worrying about the length and how long it was going to take."
Kreis said he "seriously considered" starting Schuler last weekend against Portland. Olave's suspension now "forces my hand, and I'm actually kind of glad for it, because I think Schuler is very much ready and champing at the bit and deserves a chance."
Schuler made his only previous start since recovering in a loss at Houston on Sept. 6, when he played 90 minutes at outside back in sweltering conditions.