SANDY, Utah – There’s no mystery about what opposition can expect heading into cozy Buck Shaw Stadium to face the San Jose Earthquakes. And that’s a knock-down drag-out battle.
Western Conference rivals Real Salt Lake are certainly no stranger to it, having faced the “Goonies” six times over the last two seasons.
“They batter and bruise up top, and they keep it organized in the back,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman told reporters ahead of Saturday’s matchup with the Quakes (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live). “And they get it out wide and whip it in. That's kind of their game. They play off momentum.
“I think they're going to stick to their guns.”
And even though that rough-and-tumble style may not have equated to results last year, with San Jose having missed the playoffs and parted ways with head coach Frank Yallop, RSL players know they’re not too far removed from their Supporters’ Shield-winning season from 2012.
“Good team. Hard-working team,” said RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who was named MLS Player of the Week after shutting out the LA Galaxy and preserving Salt Lake's 1-0 win by stopping Robbie Keane's stoppage-time penalty kick in the season opener. “A team that likes to fight and hit you and kick you.”
Salt Lake won two of three meetings with the Earthquakes in 2013, winning 2-0 in March and 3-0 in June before losing 2-1 in September.
That win March win just more than a year ago was the last time the Quakes lost at home; they're currently riding a 20-game unbeaten streak there that includes a 1-1 tie with Deportivo Toluca FC in CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday courtesy of an Alan Gordon goal in the 94th minute.
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“Tough place to play,” RSL coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “Strong, physical team. A few new players that are dynamic but also strong and big.”
It’s a team with size and physicality up and down the lineup.
“So it's a team we're definitely going to have to battle with first, and then let our soccer shine through,” Cassar said.
His squad is on the road for the second week in a row, and faces a schedule that keeps them there for four of their first six matches and six of their first 10. As pleased as he is with the win over LA, Cassar was quick to say, “It felt great, but now we're on to San Jose.”
There's also the added challenge of playing on a small field at Santa Clara’s Buck Shaw Stadium, which doesn't seem worry RSL players much.
“Playing on a small field up there in San Jose, yeah, we seem to have good games,” said Rimando.
RSL are 3-3 at Buck Shaw in the past five seasons.
“We feel confident going in there,” Beckerman said. “We've lost there as well, so we know we have to be aware of what they're dangerous at. … If we can get our passing down and get our game going, then hopefully we should get in front of the goal. And if execute and take our chances, then we can be in a good spot to win the game.”