FOXBORO, Mass. — There's only one thing remaining for Real Salt Lake to cross off its expansion list — win on the road.
Realistically, that final hurdle may be the toughest of all, especially this week.
Not only is RSL facing Eastern Conference leader New England tonight at 5:30 p.m. (MDT), but the Revs are also coming off their first home loss of the season, and it's doubtful they'll be in a good mood against Real Salt Lake.
"For us it's huge. They're playing very good at home as well," said RSL coach John Ellinger. "Coming out of there with a point would be a bonus for us."
In 10 matches on the road this year, Salt Lake is 0-9-1 with five goals scored and 24 surrendered. Meanwhile, New England is 6-1-3 at home, while 17 goals for and eight goals against.
"We've just got to continue to build and grow," said RSL keeper D.J. Countess. "It feels great to get two (wins) in a row. Obviously our goal is to get three and get our first road win.
Prior to last weekend's win, RSL's to-do list included scoring a goal on the North goal at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which it accomplished in a 2-1 win over Chivas last Saturday. Amazingly, it took nine and a half games to score on that elusive North goal.
Earlier this year, Real went 763 minutes into between goals on grass, and even endured an overall stretch of 556 minutes without scoring.
Those futile pursuits are a thing of the past, and tonight it's all about breaking through at New England.
Based on how its defense has played the past two games, now is probably as good as any for Real to steal a road victory.
In last week's win, for the first time all season Ellinger had his ideal starting defenders in the line-up. With Paul Broome, Brian Dunseth, Eddie Pope and Rusty Pierce roaming the field in front of D.J. Countess, RSL turned in one of its better performances defensively of the season.
"If you look along the backline, those players have played a lot of games," said Countess. "There's a lot of experience there."
To be exact, there's a minimum of six years experience from each player, and a combined 590 career MLS games played.
That experience will be handy against the potent Revolution.
With six MLS all-stars, and four U.S. National Teamers, there's talent all over the pitch in New England.
It all starts up top with Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan, a duo that has a combined 17 goals this year. The Revs' midfield is as good as anyone's with Steve Ralston out wide right, and Clint Dempsey, Jose Cancela and Shalrie Joseph patrolling the middle.
Defensively, New England is very stingy at home, partly because keeper Matt Reis is enjoying the best season between the pipes in Major League Soccer.
Despite all that talent, the Revs appear to vulnerable right now. No team's roster has been pillaged quite like New England when it comes to U.S. National Team call-ups, and the recently-completed CONCACAF Gold Cup really did a number on the Revs.
In the past six games, with all but one going on simultaneously as the Gold Gup, New England has a 1-3-2 record. This from a team that lost just once in the first 14 games of the season.
If RSL can come out strong early, and not surrender a goal in the opening 15 minutes like it's done nine times this year, it should more than be able to hang with New England.
"It's a long season, and everyone says this league is susceptible to streaks," said Ellinger. "I just hope we can put one together, more than two."
Salt Lake will be playing without midfielder Clint Mathis, who is suspended after receiving a red card in last weekend's scuffle with Chivas USA. Ellinger said he would likely shift Andy Williams into Mathis' spot in the middle of the field, and then start Chris Brown out wide right.
Jason Kreis is scheduled to start today, much to the delight of Ellinger and his players. Following the Chivas game last Saturday, Kreis had x-rays on his swollen right foot, but the results were inconclusive, and the team had to sweat it out on Sunday before a Monday MRI ruled out a fracture.
ENDLINES: Today's game is a homecoming for five Real Salt Lake players. Chris Brown, Andy Williams, Brian Dunseth, Rusty Pierce and Brian Kamler have all spent portions of their careers in New England. The most recent stints belong to Pierce and Kamler. Both were left unprotected by New England in the expansion draft last fall, and RSL snatched up both players. Pierce spent five years in New England, while Kamler spent two and a half.