LEHI, Utah — Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas are set to play two matches against each other in quick succession: a Saturday game at Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online) followed by a US Open Cup quarterfinal at Pizza Hut Park on July 12. The two teams are familiar with each other, squaring off four times — including twice in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals — since last October 16.
But that doesn’t mean RSL head coach Jason Kreis knows what his counterpart, Schellas Hyndman, is cooking up.
“I’ve been thinking about it, and all I can do is say, ‘What might I do in that situation?’” Kreis said of Hyndman’s potential scheming. “But Schellas and I are two completely different coaches, and so it doesn’t behoove me to spend a whole lot of time thinking about it.”
Despite the differences between the coaches, there are still eerie similarities between the two clubs. Both teams lost their key engines when David Ferreira and Javier Morales sustained serious injuries within a few days of each other earlier in the season.
“I think that we were put a little more under duress by losing Javier than they were by losing David,” said Kreis, who believes that Morales had more direct involvement than Ferreira, who often filled more of a withdrawn forward role.
However, Kreis is quick to give credit for how his opponent (and his own team) have overcome the loss of their respective stars.
“They’ve got guys all over the park that have stepped up their game big time, with [Fabián] Castillo, [Marvin] Chaáez, [Brek] Shea, Eric Alexander — everybody around has contributed,” Kreis said. “In some ways, we’ve gotten contributions ourselves. It just hasn’t been as statistically oriented."
Kreis also singled out one individual player for the sustained excellence of FC Dallas: Shea. The 21-year-old midfielder has eight goals this season, tied for second in the league.
“The first time I saw him play I was a huge fan of his, with his size, speed and strength, and left-footed,” Kreis said of Shea. “He has all of the tools to be a top professional in our league, and a top player on the national team. It’s taken him a long time to put the whole package together, but now recently he’s added confidence I think game in and game out. I think some of that has to do with maturity and consistency of learning how to be a pro.”
Shea could cause RSL concern in one area of their game that has suffered recently: Set piece defending. In their most recent outing — a 3-3 draw against the New England Revolution on Monday — Salt Lake gave up all their goals from dead-ball situations.
“We have to be honest with ourselves, and say that probably two-thirds of the goals that we’ve allowed this year have come off of dead ball situations,” Kreis said. “And so we continue to harp on that and focus on it. When we get the guys to buy into that and really be focused on every dead-ball situation, we do extremely well. When they slip from that just a little bit, that’s all it takes.
“It’s completely a matter of focus and for the players to buy into the messages that we’re giving,” added the RSL coach. “We’re still giving the messages. We have a coach [for whom] that’s his particular area of focus: defending dead balls. We’re focused on it, we just need them to focus on it.”
In the midst of it all, Kreis feels like his team is starting to cope better with the absence of Morales.
“I feel like my team has playing well now for five, six games in a row,” the coach said. “Maybe the goal scoring hasn’t been there the way that it was last year, but I’m not so sure it ever needs to be.”