SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake are looking to throw down the gauntlet on Wednesday night.
The team will wrap up the 2013 regular season three days before any of its rivals, and RSL head coach Jason Kreis is looking at the game against Chivas USA (9 pm ET, MLS Live) as a chance to make a statement and make the rest of the league play catch-up.
“I think it's nice to be playing before everybody else,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “Hopefully, we get a positive result. We put the three points on the table. Now everybody else has to do something if they want to win Supporters' Shield, if they want to win the Western Conference. I like doing that.”
An RSL win would lift them into first place in the Western Conference and tied with New York for the lead in the Supporters' Shield, at least until the weekend games are played. For Salt Lake to stay atop the conference and earn the No. 1 playoff seed, Portland would then have to lose or tie at Chivas. To win the Shield, Portland have to lose or tie; Sporting Kansas City have to lose or tie at Philadelphia on Saturday; and New York have to lose to Chicago at home on Sunday.
While RSL (15-10-8, 53 points) clearly have a lot to play for, Chivas (6-18-8, 26 points) have long-since been eliminated from playoff contention. But the Claret-and-Cobalt aren't taking the last-place team lightly.
“I'd argue that they have a lot to play for,” said Real midfielder Ned Grabavoy. “Guys are looking to get their options picked up. Guys are fighting for jobs. I expect players that are looking to make a statement, whether it's for their team or to, perhaps, spark the interest of an opposing coach.”
Given Chivas USA's record, no one will be surprised if players there are going to be looking for new teams in the offseason.
“I think it's going to be a desperate team,” Kreis said.
Heading into Wednesday's match, everyone on the Salt Lake roster will be available. That includes midfielder Javier Morales, who has been nursing an ankle injury and missed last Saturday's 0-0 draw with Portland through suspension via yellow-card accumulation.
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“The ankle is getting better,” Morales said. “Maybe it's not 100 percent yet, but I have to be smart.”
And, regardless of what might happen this weekend, RSL is determined to end the regular season with a victory.
“We have to win,” Morales said.”We have a small chance to be in the top, so we have to get three points. We fight the whole year for this moment.”