Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad acknowledges that because of the many COVID-19 protocols in place for fans and players alike on Wednesday, the return of MLS soccer to Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time in 172 days will feel different.
At the same time, there will be a comfort level for Glad and his teammates as RSL is one of just four clubs in MLS that’s allowing a limited amount of fans in the stands for the latest 2020 restart. The other teams that are allowing fans are Orlando, Kansas City and FC Dallas.
Regardless of how many fans show up, RSL should be beaming with confidence against visiting Los Angeles FC after its four-goal outburst in the second half against Colorado last weekend.
The win vaulted RSL into a fifth-place tie in the Western Conference through six games. With only five more regular season games officially scheduled — even though MLS has said it plans on scheduling more in phase 2 of the restart — every point is at an absolute premium for playoff positioning.
LAFC is the reigning MLS Supporter’s Shield winners, but it hasn’t fared well yet this year in pandemic soccer and has an identical 2-1-3 record to RSL.
“Everybody around the league knows what LAFC can do. We’ll be studying film looking at that, trying to recover in time. We’re also home, we always feel really comfortable at home, our record shows that,” said Corey Baird, one of four players to score in the 4-1 win at Colorado on Saturday.
Despite LAFC’s lack of wins, it’s still tied for the league lead with 15 goals. The problem has been on the back end as it ranks third to last in MLS in allowing 12 goals.
RSL, meanwhile, continues to own of the stingiest defenses in MLS, which creates an interesting clash of styles on Wednesday.
Real Salt Lake has never defeated LAFC in the regular season in four tries, including an 0-2 record at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Last year’s leading scorer Carlos Vela isn’t available as he’s dealing with a knee injury, but Diego Rossi stepped right in and filled those shoes as he leads MLS with six goals scored in six games. New signing Bradley Wright Phillips has scored three goals.
“They have a very dangerous team with or without him, so as long as we’re communicating, being in the right spots and working for each other that’s going to be the key,” said Glad.
LAFC is coming off a surprising 2-0 loss to the L.A. Galaxy last weekend, and should be extra motivated to get a bounce-back result.
RSL coach Freddy Juarez said he’s hoping the energy his players feel from getting to play in front of their home fans makes a difference on Wednesday.
“I hope our fans that were allowed to come in, add that little extra edge, that little energy we need,” said Juarez.
As excited as he is for another match at the RioT, Baird said he hopes everyone approaches the match responsibly.
“We’re looking forward to getting fans back, I think the biggest thing is making sure everyone there is safe. Socially distancing themselves, wear masks when possible. It will be great to have them back, but not to lose sight of the bigger picture to make sure everyone is staying healthy,” said Baird.
After Wednesday, RSL’s crazy busy stretch of six games in 22 games continues with a quick trip up to Portland against the MLS is Back Tournament champs.