LEHI, Utah — When Real Salt Lake travel to Toronto FC on Saturday (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online), it marks the beginning of a stretch run in which they'll play nine of their final 13 games away from the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.
And that will be a challenge, admitted head coach Jason Kreis.
“Last year I felt like it didn’t matter where we played — home or away — we always had the same mentality and we always put together good performances,” he said at training this week. “I’m sure we picked up more points at home than we did on the road, but I think some of that comes down to the emotional state of things, the altitude and the crowd.”
“This year I still think we’re kind of finding our way a little bit still on the road,” he added. “We’ve had some good results. We’ve had some positive performances, but I don’t think they’ve been as often as we do at home. We’ve got to improve on that, especially if we plan to succeed in the playoffs.”
The road-intensive portion of their schedule comes immediately on the heals of RSL winning three of the last five matches. However, those wins sandwiched two 2-0 losses (to Kansas City and Columbus) in which it appeared that a rare bit of doubt had crept into the squad.
“Those losses, as bad as they are, they kind of humble you a little bit and get you back on your feet,” goalkeeper Nick RImando said.
Teammate Nat Borchers agreed that they learned something from those losses.
“We showed last weekend [in a 3-0 win over New York] that when we keep the ball, we’re a much better team than when we don’t have it,” said the stalwart central defender. “I think that was glaringly obvious against Kansas City — we lost the ball in a lot of bad spots on the field that led to goals. So I think if we’re patient with each other, keeping the ball and defending well are going to be huge on this road stretch.”
Perhaps another added bit of difficulty is that Toronto have been in a great deal of flux in recent weeks, making it hard to gauge what to expect.
“I don’t think anybody really knows what Toronto is going to throw out there,” said Rimando. “They’re making a lot of changes, a lot of trades, bringing new players in. And so this is a team that we haven’t played yet.”
Still, Kreis feels that they should plan for a tough challenge.
“I think we should expect a team that’s moving in the right direction,” he speculated. “Two road results in a row, plus advancement in CONCACAF Champions League, and so I think they’re feeling positive about the way that they’re moving right now. It’s a very dangerous opponent for us, but still an opportunity for us to try to get all three points on the road.”
For Borchers, the secret to success on the road will be keeping their own house in order.
“The mentality right now is just to make sure that we stay hungry,” he said. “And we also need to be patient with each other. I think if we do those two things, we’re going to be just fine on the road.”