A rare Saturday training session was held at Rio Tinto Stadium leading up to tomorrow’s kickoff against the Portland Timbers and it’s obvious that this isn’t a run-of-the-mill mid-season game. First of all, it’s a Saturday practice session ahead of the team’s first Sunday home match. Second, there was a smattering of national media on hand for the training session. But the most noticeable difference was the focus of the squad. Having been to many a training session over the years, this one seemed to be especially intense, and so were the players afterwards as they talked with media.
Coach Jason Kreis officially ruled Alvaro Saborio out for Sunday’s match. That means he’s going to look toward the rest of the forward line to pick up for the absence of the Costa Rican international who is influential both on the scoresheet and helping to bring the RSL squad into the attack with his hold-up play.
Robbie Findley is one of those players that will likely be counted on. He’s looked sharp in the last couple of games after dealing with a nagging injury or two in the last half of the season. And according to Findley, he’s ready.
“It’s the playoffs, you know what I mean?,” said the striker after Saturday’s workout session when asked about his performance in RSL’s defeat of the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinals. “You’ve got to go out there. It’s going to take hard work from everybody. I wanted to make sure I did my part, and contributed to the team the best I could. That’s what I’m going to continue to do if I have that opportunity.”
The forward whose had experience playing both at the World Cup level, and at a high-level in England, added that he feels like he’s coming back into form.
“I feel good offensively and defensively, going at defenders when I can and taking my opportunities when they are available. That’s what my teammates ask of me, and that’s what my coaching staff asks of me. I’m just going to continue to do that stuff and work for the team.”
One of the missing components on Thursday, was veteran midfielder Ned Grabavoy who ruled himself out prior to the second leg of the semifinals. Grabavoy told media that he felt ready, and that he was confident that with the break falling this match he would be at 100% in the second leg. However, he cautioned that the decision on whether he plays cannot be one made hastily.
“It’s a two-leg series and these are difficult decisions that a coach has to make,” explained Grabavoy. “I have to make an unselfish decision as well which I did Thursday. It was a good decision obviously. so we’ll get in there (locker room) and we’ll talk about it, but at this point in the season you don’t want to do anything stupid to hurt your team.”
The Battle Lies in the Midfield
As is often the case in soccer, Coach Jason Kreis expects the team who wins the midfield battle to be able to control the game. Real Salt Lake has been known for their talented midfield over the last several years. Former RSL’er Will Johnson has captained a Portland midfield that has emerged this season as one of the best in the league.
“I think any good team is going to have a good midfield, especially playing the type of soccer that Portland plays, and the type of soccer that Salt Lake wants to play,” explained Kreis. “That’s the engine room, and that’s where a lot of things get done. With Johnson, and Charra, and Valeri they get a lot of stuff done – three guys that are extremely good with the ball and are willing to do anything necessary to make the team go. So I think that’s where the battle lies tomorrow for sure.”