This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When Real Salt Lake reunited at the airport for its trip to play the Portland Timbers for the first time on Saturday, each of the players and coaches was packing a different level of recovery from their devastating loss to Monterrey in the Champions League just two days earlier.
Coach Jason Kreis acknowledged he was still straining to put the loss behind him and doubted he would ever watch the game again. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman was eager to get back on the field, having missed the game while serving a yellow-card suspension. Forward Fabian Espindola wasn't even there, having taken his missed opportunities so hard that Kreis decided to leave him home, along with two other regular starters.
And Nat Borchers?
The veteran defender had already turned the page during a postgame "perspective day" with family and friends, and he directed his thoughts toward everything else that's still on the horizon for RSL this season the U.S. Open Cup, the Major League Soccer Cup and the Supporters Shield regular-season championship.
"We still haven't accomplished our goals in the league yet, and we have a lot of hardware that we can win this year that we're expecting to win, so that's got to be the focus," he said. "We're still hungry. We still have to show that. It's going to be all about how we respond in this game, and it's going to dictate things moving forward."
Indeed, the game against the expansion Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland represents the first day of the rest of the season for RSL.
Despite its painful loss, the team still is riding an 18-game unbeaten streak in MLS regular-season play and has won all four of its league games so far this season. That represents the best start in team history and gives RSL a much better position than last year from which to chase the Supporters Shield title.
"We have a lot of things to defend, it's fair to say," Kreis said.
Now if they can just shake off the Champions League disappointment quickly enough to handle the Timbers, who are, so far, the worst defensive team in the league but also one that enjoys a massive home-field advantage.
Both of its high-scoring wins have come in front of roaring, packed houses at what Beckerman called its "Europeanlike" stadium, and coach John Spencer expects to pair new designated player Diego Chara with veteran Jack Jewsbury in midfield for the first time since Chara joined the team.
Spencer has been vocal about his team's defensive shortcomings it has allowed a league-worst 13 goals leaving Kreis uncertain about what to expect when RSL takes the field.
"It will be interesting to see which way they come out on that," Kreis said, "whether they want to be really, really focused on defending, or continue to focus on attack at home."
For his part, Kreis is certain to use a mix of regulars and reserves, if only because defenders Jamison Olave and Robbie Russell stayed home with Espindola. The team is being cautious with each Russell strained his hamstring against Monterrey and Olave has bad knees that take a particular pounding on artificial turf knowing how many games it still has ahead of it this season.
The coach said he's "very much on the fence" about which other regulars to use, knowing that many of them are eager to get back on the field and wash away the memory of Monterrey.
Beckerman is sure to be out there, at any rate, with Kreis saying the team needs his "positive mentality" to get back on track.
"I'm just going to try to bring some energy," the veteran captain said. "If you're not ready, you can find yourself in trouble, so we're going to make sure … we get everybody in a great mindset so we can go in and give our best."
Real Salt Lake at Portland
P At Jeld-Wen Field,Portland, Ore.
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m. MST
TV • KMYU 2.2 / Comcast 22 / Dish 12
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
Records • RSL 4-0-0, Portland 2-3-1
All-time series • First meeting
About RSL • It needs a win or draw to equal the league-record 19-game unbeaten streak in regular-season play. … Midfielder Javier Morales and forward Paulo Junior have each scored two goals to lead the team in league play. … It's unbeaten in nine straight regular-season road games. … Goalkeeper Nick Rimando leads the league in save percentage, having stopped 13-of-14 shots. … It has outscored opponents 17-7 in its 10 games so far this season, counting Major League Soccer and Champions League games.
About the Timbers • Four players forwards Jorge Perlaza and Kenny Cooper and midfielders Jack Jewsbury and Rodney Wallace share the team scoring lead with two goals each. … They lead the league in offside calls, with Perlaza and Cooper contributing 12 apiece. … Coach John Spencer said he fears his team is getting a reputation for being "soft" defensively, having allowed a league-worst 13 goals in six games.