After Real Salt Lake’s embarrassing bow-out to the Minnesota Stars during the U.S. Open Cup, boss Jason Kreis vowed to make his squad pay a price for its nonchalant performance.
Whatever Kreis did over Real’s nearly three-week break from competition worked wonders.
Sure of pace and confidence, Salt Lake returned with vengeance and fire against Chivas on Saturday at the Home Depot Center, looking every bit the part of a team that currently leads Major League Soccer’s race for the Supporter’s Shield.
“I’m really, really pleased,” Kreis said. “I thought the guys played probably the best match we’ve played this year. From start to finish for me, I thought it was the most complete match. I thought they just did an excellent job on both sides of the ball. I’m really pleased that the guys showed they’re happy to be back together and chomping at the bit for another difficult segment of our season.”
Undoubtedly bolstered by the return of key players from international duty, Salt Lake hardly looked like a team that was unceremoniously dumped out of the U.S. Open Cup at home by a second division squad, nor the same team that was fortunate to squeak out a home win in stoppage time against crumbling Dallas.
It looked like a team refreshed and full of purpose as it blistered the Goats from one end of the pitch to the other, posting a three-goal advantage on the scoreline — an advantage that would have been even larger had it not been for a spotty referee decision in the first half.
“We were real excited to get back together; we all missed each other for the month or so,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “We got a good day of practice (on Friday), and the guys have been working real hard these past couple weeks. (Tonight) we wanted to get rewarded for that hard work.”
In addition to welcoming its four players back from international duty, midfielder Javier Morales also returned to the field, coming on in the 61st minute and playing the final half hour.
“The plan was that he was always going to play; I was definitely wanting to only play him 30 (minutes),” Kreis said of Morales.
“Of course he’s not 100 percent fit right now, and certainly not going to be at the top of his game, but I think as we go forward he has shown us over the last week in training and in some moments tonight that he’s definitely still got it, and we’re big believers in him.”
While RSL has certainly shown it can continue to gather points and results despite less than perfect play on the pitch, the team certainly appears poised to strengthen its case as MLS table leaders, even more so now that its injury woes are lessening and international duty call-ups are passed for the moment.
If Saturday night’s performance was indeed a sign of what lies ahead for the Claret-and-Cobalt, it could well be just the beginning of a glorious stretch for Real.
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at email@example.com.