Editors Note: Here is a post from guest writer Nic Shellabarger. Thanks Nic for contributing this article
By Nic Shellabarger
The early season schedule for Real Salt Lake in 2014 has been called difficult, daunting, and even one of the toughest in the MLS. With two contests against the ever formidable LA Galaxy and one each against a tough San Jose Earthquakes, a reorganized and wealth infused Toronto FC, and the reigning league champions in Sporting KC, not to mention four out of six away games, it’s easy to see why. But was this schedule as tough as so many made it out to be? Or was it possibly the perfect setup for a competitive run for the Supporter’s Shield?
RSL has had what was likely the most static off season in the league. Other than an arguably important change in the coaching staff, our starting lineup is basically the same guys that stepped onto the frozen KC pitch last December. This continuity gives RSL a marked advantage over teams that have recently incorporated new high-profile players into their lineups. This is especially the case for a team like Toronto FC who have purchased an all-new lineup in the brief off season.
RSL players are familiar with one another. They understand each other’s pace and purpose as they make a run for the ball. They understand how to work within the diamond formation that they have so carefully perfected under years of tutelage from Jason Kreis. They understand each other’s abilities in a way that will take other teams months of working together to accomplish.
This familiarity creates a distinct advantage for RSL in early season games. After the briefest of off-seasons, they are ready to go. What better time to face this high-profile, big money teams then right at the beginning when those teams are still trying to work out the kinks?
Even with an abundance of away games, this continuity of players gives us a distinct advantage over our opponents. Each team will face a certain number of away games each year. The elevation and climate of our home pitch has given us the increased opportunity to face opponents on their home turf while they are still developing their game. Later in the season when teams are beginning to gel and establish unity, they will face us on our turf.
This window of opportunity, however, is quickly closing as we begin to see players fall into sync forming dangerous combinations such as Obefemi Martins and Clint Dempsey or Mauro Rosales and Erick Torres that are finally starting to work well together. With six games in the books, it’s time for Real Salt Lake to take their familial unity and convert it into goal scoring opportunities and bring home that Supporter’s Shield.