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With chaotic week in rearview mirror, Real Salt Lake set for long-awaited return to home field

RSL’s boycott last week caused a chain reaction of events that led to Dell Loy Hansen’s decision to sell RSL

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Real Salt Lake forward Sam Johnson, center, scores a goal late in the MLS soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. The match ended in a 4-4 draw.

Steve Dykes, Associated Press

SANDY — From the boycott, to the radio show, to The Athletic story, to the announcement of an investigation, to the voluntary leave, to the roller-coaster 4-4 tie and then finally an intent-to-sell announcement, the events of the past week for Real Salt Lake have been one major story after another.

The players’ decision last Wednesday to join other sports teams across the country by boycotting their scheduled game started the chaotic week surrounding RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen.

“It’s not panic mode. Everyone expects things to fall apart, but myself and my great staff and the leaders on the team we just try and get on with it and stick united. And I think if anything it made the team more united.” — RSL coach Freddy Juarez

Now, a week later, everyone is ready to settle back into as much normalcy as is possible in 2020 when the club hosts Seattle on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., KMYU) at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“It’s not panic mode. Everyone expects things to fall apart, but myself and my great staff and the leaders on the team we just try and get on with it and stick united. And I think if anything it made the team more united,” said RSL coach Freddy Juarez.

That was evident last Saturday as RSL’s attack was buzzing, recording a team-record 29 shots in a come-from-behind 4-4 draw at Portland after scoring twice in the final five minutes.

“We’ve done a really good job of not letting it distract us. The last game showed that. Guys were able to put it behind us pretty quickly and go out and have a really good showing in Portland,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, who is eligible to return to action this week after serving his two-game red card suspension from the MLS is Back Tournament.

Just like last week, Real Salt Lake hopes to have 5,000 fans in attendance at Rio Tinto Stadium — one of just four MLS teams that has been cleared to have fans.

Last week’s boycotted match ended up being a sellout, but tickets still remain for this Wednesday’s match against defending MLS Cup champion Seattle.

Seattle eliminated Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals last year, but Beckerman said avenging that loss isn’t really on the team’s mind this week.

“You might think that is part of it, but it really isn’t. We’re just looking at it as we have a chance to move up the standings possibly with a win and some other things. We have a chance to add points to our total, and it’s a Western Conference foe so if you win it’s kind of a 6-point swing,” said Beckerman. “That’s pretty much our biggest focus. There’s always going to be big games with Seattle, whenever we play them it’s going to mean something.”

The Sounders are coming off a 3-1 win against visiting Los Angeles FC last Sunday, which vaulted them into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference. RSL sits four points back in fifth place.

Beckerman said he watched some of the match, and it reiterated just what a difficult team Seattle is to beat.

“If you ask Seattle, they didn’t feel like they were playing well and they go into halftime up 1-0. That type of team is extremely dangerous,” said Beckerman. “When you do have Seattle under the gun a little bit you have to make sure you score and punish them because knowing it could be very quickly where it turns around and you’re down a goal even though you’re playing well.”

In some respects, that’s what happened to RSL in Portland. It was the more dominant team in the first half but trailed 2-1 after a couple of defensive lapses.

With even more attacking quality on Seattle’s side, Real Salt Lake can’t afford similar defensive miscues Wednesday in its first match at Rio Tinto Stadium in 179 days.