LEHI, Utah — You’ll never get any input from Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis on his lineup approach for an upcoming match. He believes that this type of information should be guarded on pain of death, especially from the press. It’s hard to fault a coach for this attitude, though.
But it usually leaves a curious party to follow the trail of crumbs to get a hint of what may play out in the future contest – in this case, the upcoming CCL match in Panama against Árabe Unido.
As you may recall, the Panamanian came into Salt Lake on Aug. 18, seized an early goal and then employed some extreme tactics in order to hold onto the advantage. That approach earned them a couple of red cards, and they gave up the contest in the waning moments of stoppage time.
With that in mind, here are some clues into Kreis' thinking for Wednesday's match:
Clue No. 1: In many instances, a coach may choose to rest crucial players from an international road match so they will be fresh for upcoming league matches with the hope that the team finds a way to earn a point. But in this case, Árabe Unido appear to be a vulnerable side as they were shelled by Cruz Azul 6-0 at home. So you wonder if RSL will give it their best shot to come away from Panama with three points.
Clue No. 2: Árabe Unido left Salt Lake hopping mad at the way the result went down. Coach Richard Parra heavily criticized the referee, Paul Ward, and the tournament itself for some of the on-field disciplinary action taken. It’s likely that Árabe Unido will be out to avenge a perceived wrong. Maybe for this reason Kreis will play it safe, resting some key players in a hostile situation for fear of seeing them injured as a result of the emotions on the field.
Clue No. 3: A win could put RSL in a position of being at least tied atop Group A with nine points. Kreis has pointed to the nine-point level as a key milestone – one that he feels would allow his team to advance. Perhaps he’ll take his best shot in Panama and keep the pressure on with his team until they reach that level. Maybe afterward he’ll throttle down his team and shift more of the focus to league play.
Clue No. 4: The proof is in the airline reservations. Recent word out of the RSL camp has Nat Borchers, Andy Williams and Chris Wingert staying behind in Salt Lake to get some rest. All three players have logged significant minutes as of late. In addition, Javier Morales (quad injury) and Paulo Junior (hamstring injury) will stay behind for treatment.
The omissions give RSL a good mix of starters and reserves heading into Panama, perhaps a middle-of-the-road approach. A starting lineup could consist of Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley, Ned Grabavoy, Nelson Gonzalez, Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, Tony Beltran and Nick Rimando.
Among these players, only Schuler is largely unproven, but he recently had a fantastic performance in a start at Seattle.
Is this the approach the team will take, or will they rest even more key players and assume a defensive posture against their Panamanian opponents? With the clues available, it seems certainly uncertain, but it wouldn’t be a Kreis lineup if it weren’t. And the coach’s close-to-the-chest approach demonstrates, if nothing else, his desire to win.
Look for RSL to come out swinging.