San Jose, Calif. •Â So, you all thought that Real Salt Lake's top-of-the-table showdown with unbeaten Sporting KC last weekend was big?
Coach Jason Kreis says his team's game at San Jose on Saturday night might be even more important.
"I look at this game as arguably a bigger game than last weekend, and I know we all thought last weekend was the biggest game since the World Cup," he said, mocking the hype that attended the biggest game of the Major League Soccer season so far. "But this one, for me, is arguably bigger because it's against a conference opponent."
While RSL leads the MLS Western Conference and can assure their best eight-game start in franchise history with a victory, the Earthquakes are their closest pursuers just two points back in the standings with a game in hand and arguably the best goal-scorer in the league.
Forward Chris Wondolowski has scored 41 regular-season goals since the 2010 season began, including seven in six games this season.
Incredibly, though, he has never scored against RSL and RSL hopes to keep it that way.
"We have to continue to do the stuff we've been trying to do," defender Chris Wingert said, "which is possess the ball when we have the chance, which obviously keeps them away from our goal, and hopefully pressure them in their end. And when they do have it in our end â¦ we just have to do our best to get tight, block shots, fight and scrap for every ball and make sure they're not getting good shots off" on goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
And usually, they do a pretty good job.
RSL has scored the last nine unanswered goals in the series, having shut out the Earthquakes four straight times. It has won the last two games in San Jose, but also will be trying to avoid the kind of defensive mistakes that have resulted in its two losses this season.
The latest came last weekend in the much-anticipated showdown in Kansas City, when forward Alvaro Saborio lost his mark on a corner kick, allowing Sporting's Aurelin Collin to score the winner in a 1-0 game.
"We have to defend set pieces," Kreis said. "There's no excuse for shirking your responsibility. We have to hold our hand up, say we made a mistake, be accountable for it, move forward, and improve."
Both sides have lineup questions, with the Earthquakes missing midfielders Shea Salinas and Marvin Chavez one injured, the other suspended Â and RSL possibly getting injured midfielders Javier Morales or Ned Grabavoy back.
Either way, the team knows it will need a strong effort to avoid losing its place atop the conference, in the first of another three-games-in-eight-days stretch.
"Every week, it's a new challenge," defender Nat Borchers said. "Especially when you're playing Western Conference teams. You have get points, and you have to keep moving forward in the standings."
Real Salt Lake at San Jose
P At Buck Shaw Stadium, San Jose, Calif.
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • CW30
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 102.3 FM
Records • RSL 5-2-0, San Jose 4-1-1
Regular-Season Series • RSL leads, 5-3-5
Last Meeting • RSL 4, San Jose 0 (July 23, 2011)
About RSL • Riding a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2) against the Earthquakes, it's aiming for its third road win of the season already. â¦ It's playing the first of three games in eight days, something it must do five times this season. â¦ Midfielders Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy are listed as questionable, with Morales recovering from a hamstring injury and Grabavoy from a dislocated rib. Both trained with the team this week.
About the Earthquakes • They're 3-0-1 in their last four games, scoring nine goals in that span. â¦ Forward Chris Wondolowski leads the team with seven goals. â¦ Forwards Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon could return from hamstring injuries, but midfielder Shea Salinas is out with a broken collarbone suffered when New York's Rafa Marquez tackled him on a corner kick last week, and midfielder Marvin Chavez is suspended for his dangerous challenge on Roy Miller in that game.