SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis isn't worried about having to face the defending champion LA Galaxy for the second time in five days – it was the 11-day gap before Sunday's 1-0 loss in Los Angeles in the Western Conference Semifinals first leg that he wasn't happy about.
“This is the third or fourth time this season where we've had more than 10 days in between matches,” Kreis told reporters. “It causes some difficulties just with our rhythm and our flow. Especially in our possession.”
Since the start of September, RSL have had gaps of 14 days, eight days, 14 days and 11 days between games — and are 0-3-1 in those matches. On the other hand, since March 1, Salt Lake is 8-2-3 in games with four or fewer days of rest across all competitions.
Kreis said the long layoff before Sunday's game contributed to his team's difficulty possessing the ball. “I would say that the biggest, glaring weakness that we had against the Galaxy on Sunday night was that we just gave the ball away too cheaply too often.”
Including the giveaway that turned into the game's only goal, a 35-yard blast by LA's Sean Franklin that ended up as the game's only goal.
Kreis readily admits that his team struggled on Sunday. But he insists that, facing elimination, they can turn it around for Thursday's second-leg (9 pm ET, ESPN2, TSN2).
“Absolutely," he said. “I think that we've got experienced enough guys, we've got talented enough guys, we've got good enough players and a strong enough team concept that I believe we can improve drastically.”
And being down 1-0 “doesn't change anything about our mentality” going into Thursday's game, Kreis insisted. Like any other game this season, RSL has to win in regulation.
“If we win then, at the very least, we get to play an overtime and the potential for a shootout,” he said. And if RSL win by two or more they advance to the Western Conference Championship against Portland or Seattle. "I don't think it really changed a whole ton about how we would approach this match.”
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Except, he admits, this win-or-go-home situation makes him a little more nervous, saying, “When you're in the middle of the season, you feel like even if things go really wrong, you've got some time to fix it. You get to the end of the season and you know if things go really wrong, your season's over. And I don't want it to be over. I've had a really enjoyable time this year and I'd like to press on for a few more weeks.”
Both forward Joao Plata and defender/midfielder Lovel Palmer have recovered from hamstring injuries suffered in the Oct. 23 regular season finale and will be available on Thursday. Starting midfielder Ned Grabavoy, however, is “looking doubtful” after suffering a hamstring injury on Sunday.