Real Salt Lake traveled east to battle the Columbus Crew to a 0-0 draw last night, setting up an interesting rematch next Tuesday in Rio Tinto Stadium. Last night’s match kicked off in temperatures in the low 20s and was marred by inconsistent play and ejections. Perhaps it resulted from frustration with the rough, frozen field, but both teams had players ejected and finished the match undermanned. Given the conditions, coach Kreis expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“Obviously we’re pleased with the result,” he said after the game. “Tonight it was more of a battle than it was a soccer game, and both teams played in the same weather and on the same field. They were difficult circumstances to play a soccer match in. The field being as frozen as it was, it obviously affected possession and the way the match was played. And of course when you start taking players off the field, that’s going to affect what the match looks like as well.”
Now the attention turns to Rio Tinto Stadium, where Real Salt Lake boasts a 34-game undefeated streak. Whether or not they can extend the mark next Tuesday night depends on the discipline of its players. Coach Kreis acknowledged the impact of Borchers’ ejection last night when he said, “Nat, in particular, is an extremely important player for us, as everybody knows. He’s a very vocal organizer in the back. Now our depth will be tested a little bit.”
While coach Kreis refrained from criticizing his players for the aggressiveness that led to their ejections, he is most likely discussing it with his team in private. It’s a tough line to manage, because any head coach would welcome the passion and intensity that Nat Borchers brings to the team. At the same time, undermanned Real Salt Lake can ill afford to lose any more players during next Tuesday’s match. Discipline must prevail in all phases of the game.
Following the team’s playoff elimination last year, coach Kreis spoke at length about the stress and challenges of playing as defending champions. Though dejected from the outcome of that last Dallas game, the relief in his voice was readily apparent. He was looking forward to this 2011 season, when his players could enjoy playing the game without the fear of failure that often hinders a defending champion squad. So far, his team seems to be striking a promising balance – they’re playing aggressive, emotional soccer and they don’t have the shadow of the championship looming over them.