SANDY, Utah – Necessitated by a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against Columbus on Feb. 22, Real Salt Lake will be getting an early jump on their preseason training.
The team will be heading to Casa Grande, Ariz., next week for the first of two preseason sessions to prepare their efforts to capture a piece of silver, something that evaded RSL in 2010.
“Last year was a great year, but we didn’t win anything,” explained general manager Garth Lagerwey. “We’ve got an opportunity by April to validate what we did last year [by winning the Champions League]. Because we need to win something coming out of last year, and I think we have the ability to do it.”
It may seem like the break was too short – RSL were ousted from the playoffs last November at the hands of FC Dallas – but head coach Jason Kreis said the team is itching to set foot on the pitch.
“We’re champing at the bit,” he said, “but [the season] definitely has come back fast.”
Kreis felt his team had an excellent season last year, but still laments how it ended. He told MLSsoccer.com that he still has that negative image of losing to Dallas in his head, and feels it will provide motivation heading into this season.
“There is no doubt about it,” said Kreis. "I’m very hopeful that the players carry the same sort of aggravation, and chip on their shoulder about how our year ended last year, as I will be carrying."
[inline_node:325935]The time available between the opening of camp and when RSL first take the pitch against Columbus means the preparation time is short.
“We’re going to handle it just as we’d handle any other preseason and just look at it as a more compact version,” Kreis said. “Last year, we did six weeks. This year, we’ve got four weeks. In our minds, the first game of our season is Feb. 22.”
Defender Nat Borchers feels like that level of preparation will be adequate, especially since they have similar circumstances with their upcoming opponent.
“One month will give us plenty of time to get in true shape for action,” he said. “The best thing for both us and Columbus is that we’re going to be on the same timeline.”
Having a couple of Champions League matches prior to the start of the season is something new for RSL. It will require the team to get up to speed quicker than in the past, and they’ll face the challenge of sustaining that level of intensity as they approach the opening of league play.
"It’s both good and bad,” said Kreis of the challenge. “It’s good because in preseason, you want there to be some very competitive matches. So as far as preparing us for our season, it should be extremely good. But it’s bad in the sense that we are taking that competition very, very seriously and we’d love for our players to be in midseason form for that competition.”
The second leg of Real Salt Lake's quarterfinal tie with Columbus will be at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 1. RSL are trying to become the third MLS team to lift the CONCACAF crown, and the first since the LA Galaxy in 2000. RSL kick off the regular season at San Jose on March 19.