Real Salt Lake is sweating the fitness of centerback pairing Borchers and Olave heading into a conference final against the LA Galaxy.CARSON, Calif. -- In the conference semifinal first leg against Seattle Sounders FC, Real Salt Lake had its first-choice lineup fit and raring to go for the first time since Javier Morales succumbed to an ankle fracture in May. It lasted half an hour.
That's when gargantuan Colombian defender Jamison Olave limped out of the game. Nat Borchers followed suit shortly after, and both were diagnosed with quad strains.
Despite a nervy second leg, RSL progressed past Seattle to set up a date with the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference final. The big question is, however, if "Borlave" will make that date on Sunday.
"Those two are arguably the best center back pairing in the league, and if one of them are out it hurts them," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. "If both of them are out it certainly hurts them."
Fellow U.S. international Kyle Beckerman, who sits in a holding role a dozen yards ahead of the RSL defense, agreed.
"If they're in, we definitely have a confidence and swagger that we can play with with those two in the back," the 29-year-old said. "Today in practice they looked pretty good so hopefully we'll get back to our regular [lineup]."
Both trained – though not at full tilt – on Saturday. RSL coach Jason Kreis, who playfully dodged questions about their fitness ahead of the Seattle second leg on Wednesday, remained coy.
"The latest is that they're still undecided and they'll be undecided until game time tomorrow," Kreis said.
Borchers and Olave anchored the defense when Salt Lake won the MLS Cup, over the LA Galaxy, in 2009. In fact, much of the squad is the same from two years ago, thanks to a consistency Kreis highlights as key to his side's success.
"My personal belief is that the most successful teams in our league are the ones that can keep the most number of players together for the longest amount of time," Kreis said before acknowledging that Los Angeles has kept a far more consistent lineup than his team this season.
LA coach Bruce Arena claimed in a conference call earlier in the week that he expects both centerbacks to be fit. (Donovan's take on fitness in the playoffs: "I'm not sure anybody's close to 100 percent right now.") If one can't go, expect Chris Schuler to step in. If both miss out, Chris Wingert could move in from his leftback position as he did in the second leg against Seattle. In that match, Tony Beltran played on the left, making one fantastic goal-line clearance with his head but also coughing up a penalty.
Midfield possession will be essential to compensate for any inexperience or fitness issues at the back for RSL.
"Their midfield does a good job of getting around the ball, which relieves some of the pressure on their backline," Donovan pointed out. "They have a great goalkeeper too so even if one or both of those two aren't on the field, it's still going to be a big challenge."
Additional reporting contributed by Nick Rosano
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