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Real’s healthy, intact, ready

Full-squad RSL looks to avenge 5-1 loss to Chivas

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For the first time all season, Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger has the luxury of looking over his active roster and selecting whomever he wants to play against Chivas USA.

No one is unavailable because of injuries.

No one is suspended.

And perhaps most importantly, no one is away with their respective national teams.

Eddie Pope, Brian Dunseth, Rusty Pierce and Andy Williams will all be among RSL's starting 11 for today's 4 p.m. kickoff at Rice-Eccles Stadium, televised nationally by ESPN2. The timing couldn't be better for Ellinger to have a full complement of players available.

With a newfound vigor following the All-Star break, Salt Lake heads into the final third of the season determined to make the playoffs. Then again, so does Chivas USA.

"This is their last crack at us," said Ellinger. "If they're going to catch us, they really need to come in and win. If we're going to catch Colorado, we need to win."

As it stands now in the Western Conference, Colorado occupies the fourth and final playoff spot with 21 points, followed by Real with 16 and Chivas USA with 12. RSL also has a game in hand on both teams.

Separating itself from fellow expansion club Chivas should be motivation enough for Real Salt Lake. Just in case it isn't, all the players need to do is flashback to July 9. That was the day Chivas humiliated Salt Lake to the tune of a 5-1 thrashing in Southern California.

Regardless of how grossly shorthanded RSL, the players seemed to give up in the second half, and were lucky to escape with just a four-goal loss.

"It's pretty obvious what happened last time," said RSL defender Brian Dunseth. "For us, now that we have our national team guys back and our injured players back, hopefully we'll build upon what we did two weeks ago against Dallas."

Of today's 11 starters, only five were starters in that Chivas debacle. That includes an entirely new backline as well.

On July 9, RSL's four starting defenders were Nelson Akwari, Cameron Knowles, Matt Behncke and Brian Kamler. In today's game, which marks the fourth and final match between the MLS expansion clubs, RSL's starting defenders will be Pierce, Pope, Dunseth and Paul Broome.

"Paul hasn't played with two of the back four, so it's crucial that defensively we're communicating and have a good start and deal with their initial high pressure," said Ellinger. "That's going to be the most crucial part of the game."

Broome, acquired in a trade with the Galaxy last month, made his starting debut in a 3-0 win over Dallas two weeks ago. Both Pope and Pierce watched that game from the sideline with injuries.

All four of those defenders have played over 100 career MLS games, and that experience should help RSL withstand Chivas' expected high-pressure attack in the first 10 minutes.

Going all out in the opening 10 minutes is quickly becoming a trademark of new Chivas coach Hans Westerhof. He utilized that against RSL on July 9, and Chivas scored just four minutes into the match.

In Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup match against Los Angeles, a game Ellinger attended, Chivas came out with an intense effort in the first 10 minutes, which also paid off with an early goal.

"As soon as they stopping pressing, L.A. comes and scores," said Ellinger, who fully expects Chivas to try it again.

He's quite content to try and weather the flurry, and let Chivas potentially tire itself out on a hot August afternoon on the turf — a surface RSL is still unbeaten on this year.

ENDLINES: The home team has won all three meetings this year . . . Chris Brown's string of starting 17 straight matches will comes to an end today . . . Jordan Cila gets his third straight start, having scored in the past two matches . . . Chivas' Matt Taylor, Hector Cuadros and Victor Arbelaez are out with injuries . . . RSL's is 3-1 when Dunseth, Pope and Pierce start together.


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com