As Cup nears, RSL looks ahead, not back
Forget about the regular-season struggles or the playoff berth sealed on the final day of the campaign. For Real Salt Lake, the past isn't particularly important as they prepares to face Los Angeles in MLS Cup 2009 on Sunday night in Seattle.
"I have a lot of belief in this team, and (it's) not based on the results or the fact that we were the eighth-placed finisher in league this year," Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis said during a nationwide conference call on Tuesday afternoon. "I have a lot of belief in this team because I know what they are capable of. At the moment, they are playing close to their capabilities and close to their potential. I believe that if they continue to do that this weekend, we've got every shot in the world and I don't care what any record or stat might say."
Kreis' belief in his side fuels RSL's expectations heading into their maiden MLS Cup bow. Few expected RSL to shake off an up-and-down regular season to assemble a four-game winning streak at the most critical juncture of the season and oust Columbus and Chicago on the road to win the Eastern Conference championship.
All of that hard work and momentum presents the Claret-and-Cobalt with a chance to cap off the impressive run with the biggest prize of them all, Kreis said.
"It's an extremely exciting time for Real Salt Lake," Kreis said. "It's a benchmark for the club. We've somewhat turned the club around and we've made ourselves competitive. We're very very proud of all of the work we've put in and all of the work the team has put in. We're excited about our opportunity this weekend and we see it as exactly that: an opportunity."
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando played a large part in ensuring his side would reach MLS Cup after stopping three Chicago penalty kicks, including two stops on two shots in the sudden-death stage, to send the Claret-and-Cobalt past the Fire after a 0-0 draw through extra time on Saturday night. Rimando said his side has accumulated significant momentum over the past few weeks and should benefit from its recent uptick in form on Sunday night.
"We're very excited to get to Seattle," Rimando said on the conference call. "It's been our goal since the beginning of the season. I think right now the guys are ready. We've got our rhythm going and we're confident, especially after winning in Columbus and Chicago. We're excited to get there and play a good match against the Galaxy."
Kreis said keeping that rhythm will require keeping the pre-match routine as consistent as possible despite the additional trappings of playing in MLS Cup. RSL will descend on the Emerald City on Thursday night and maintain a training schedule that will mirror the approach to its previous two playoff road trips.
"This weekend, we'll do the same thing," Kreis said. "We're going in three days early. Our training times will be staying the same as they were here. We'll be paying attention to the details for sure because I'm a detail-oriented person, sometimes to the chagrin of my players."
Those players, including Rimando, are also looking forward to a packed house at Qwest Field on Sunday night. Rimando said the normally rave green-clad home of Seattle Sounders FC provides a "fantastic atmosphere" for soccer and noted that the bumper crowd will urge the players to greater heights if required.
"I've been in there for the first game against the Sounders," Rimando said. "I also played there when D.C. United played Real Madrid and that place was sold out. I think Sunday is going to be that same way. It's going to be rocking. It makes us play just a little bit better and makes us appreciate the sport here in America."
Kyle McCarthy is a contributor to MLSnet.com.