TUKWILA, Wash. – Real Salt Lake wrapped up their final training session on Tuesday afternoon, one day before they’re scheduled to face Seattle in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals (Weds., 10 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) at CenturyLink Field.
And while RSL head into that game with a big, 3-0 cushion – and the confidence that comes with it – there’s still a gigantic question to be answered: Are Jámison Olave and Nat Borchers, both of whom are nursing injuries, going to be available to play in central defense?
It’s a query head coach Jason Kreis has deflected repeatedly since Saturday, and he wasn’t about to change his stance to hint one way or the other.
“You can keep asking the question, and I’ll keep telling you that we don’t have an answer yet,” Kreis said, maintaining that it will be a gametime decision on both.
When asked who it would be if either or both aren’t available, Kreis swatted that one away as well.
“That’s a really good question, and no, you won’t get an answer to it,” he said with a grin.
Is he looking for experience playing central defense, or experience with the team?
"That's a good effort as well, but no, no answer," Kreis deadpanned.
So the coach has kept a lid on it, as tight as he can, but there’s pretty compelling evidence that the pairing will be Chris Schuler – the second-year man who’s filled in admirably this season – and veteran fullback Chris Wingert. That’s the twosome that finished off the first leg once Olave and Borchers came out, anchoring an impromptu back line that managed to keep Seattle from registering a shot on goal.
“It’s been a while,” Wingert said when asked if he can recall the last time he played in central defense for a big game. “I’m just gonna do my best, use this last day to be prepared, go watch a little video, talk to the other guys on our team, and do my best to be well-prepared for [Wednesday] no matter where I am on the field. I’m confident, and I’m confident in the other guys around me on the field that we can get the job done.”
Getting that job done against a Sounders attack that led the league in scoring will require grit and skill, but also the ability to get on, and stay on, the same page. Even for veteran defenses, that can be a big ask; with a makeshift defense in a game with huge implications – and what will probably be a deafening crowd – it seems nearly impossible.
“If one or both of them aren’t there, it’s definitely gonna be difficult,” said ‘keeper Nick Rimando. “But I think the most important thing is to communicate and stay organized. Whoever steps in has to communicate, and has big shoes to fill. But it’s up to me as well to keep everyone organized tight and not lose space in the back.”