SANDY, Utah – The turf used to be Real Salt Lake’s friend. They played on the surface at Rice Eccles Stadium from their inception in 2005 through nearly the end of 2008, when Rio Tinto Stadium opened.
Now it’s more of an enemy.
In order to prepare for this new enemy, RSL took to the field of a local high school for training this week. It's all prep for JELD-WEN Field in Portland, where they’ll face the Timbers on Saturday night (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“I think we have to try to get on a turf surface even though it’s not the same surface as Portland will be,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis explained on Friday of the change of venue. “[It’s important] just to get on the surface and see how the ball rolls – it’s going a little bit faster, and bouncing a little bit different.”
That difference in the rolls and bounces could have an effect on the RSL style, both in their possession game, and with the long passes they sometimes employ to spring striker Fabián Espíndola free into space.
“I think it’s a big issue,” said Kreis. “I think it’s a much different surface, and I can say that because I played on it. Things just happen differently. The thought is that it’s faster, and that’s true and so the field plays smaller, but it’s also a little bit unreliable because depending on how the ball is spinning it tends to bounce differently off the turf than it does off of the grass.”
The coach admitted that holding one training session on a surface only loosely similar to the one in Rose City isn’t an ideal solution. But beggars can't be choosers.
“What other option do we have?” he asked.
The key to dealing with the surface, then, is likely the same one Kreis offered up for dealing with the boisterous Portland crowd.
“You have to have some calm,” he explained. “You have to recognize that not every game are you going to be dictating the tempo and the flow for 90 minutes. And so that may be a place where you don’t get to have your say and control the ball as we typically do.”