Through a fluke of the schedule, MLS has a terrific lead-in to the World Cup: an MLS Cup rematch (9 p.m. ET Wednesday, Direct Kick/MLSSoccer.com) that finds both the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake in good form.
Real might be exhausted, having spent several days sweating in D.C. for an Open Cup qualifier, a White House visit and a league game. But they’re motivated. The mountain men have an MLS trophy, but after squeaking into the playoffs last year, they know they have some work to do.
“We’re going to have to keep fighting in order to keep getting respect,” captain Nat Borchers said after Saturday’s 0-0 draw in D.C.
“At the beginning of the season, everyone thought we were going to be a big-time team,” Robbie Russell said. “We lose three games on the road against the top three teams from last year, and all of a sudden everyone’s talking about how we’re not good. We have another streak of form, get some home wins, and all of a sudden, we’re good again.”
Russell isn’t exaggerating. Real’s April schedule was borderline sadistic. At Houston. A lone home game against Seattle. At Los Angeles. At Columbus.
“When you’re 1-3-1 and have played a lot of good soccer, I think it’s a bit frustrating,” Borchers said. “That being said, we did play very good soccer. We know how good we are at home – that’s our castle, and we got good results there.”
“Castle” may seem a little overblown, but in general, Real’s players have a strong belief that they’ve found that mythical Right Way of Doing Things.
“It’s been about a 2 1/2-year season where we’ve been striving to get to where we’re getting to now,” Kyle Beckerman said. “We have a style of play now we really believe in. You feel confident in games when you have a style you know works. That’s keeping the ball on the ground, keeping a good deal of possession. When you tend to do that, the other team is playing defense a lot of the time, and that takes a lot out of you.”
And so Beckerman, who’s nursing a torn tendon in his left foot, is in a hurry to get back after the World Cup break.
“I’m about two weeks into rehab. We decided to continue with that. It happened at a decent time where I’m only going to miss three games and should be back for the game after the break.
“The injury was a bit unique. It’s not a standard injury where you do the surgery and you’re back in a certain amount of time. I didn’t really feel comfortable with the surgical options. The one doctor who I did feel comfortable with, he thought it would be OK to go the conservative route without surgery.”