Just like last season, a strong start is suddenly fading fast for Real Salt Lake.
After winning five of its first six games for the second straight year, the team again is unexpectedly wobbling — this time having lost back-to-back road games, with just three days to prepare for another one in the most hostile of environments, without two of its most important players.
“The best thing we can do,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said, “is try to rebound from it.”
That won’t be easy.
Forward Fabian Espindola and defender Jamison Olave were red-carded from a 3-1 loss at San Jose on Saturday night, meaning they are automatically suspended from their next game, in this case a Wednesday visit to FC Dallas, where RSL has managed but a single draw in 10 meetings all-time.
Under the terms of the league’s new partnership with U.S. Soccer to manage its referees, RSL could appeal either red card in the hope that Major League Soccer would rescind it, along with its attendant $250 fine and suspension.
But it’s unclear whether team officials will pursue that option, even though coach Jason Kreis complained that referee Elias Bazakos was “inexperienced” and “struggled” to make good decisions in the San Jose game.
For one thing, Kreis might have been tempted to rest Espindola and Olave at FC Dallas, anyway. Besides that, it might take a more clear-cut case than the ones RSL endured to get the league to overturn an ejection.
Kreis could face disciplinary action from the league himself, in fact, for his comments about Bazakos.
Even down two men, though, RSL nearly closed out a draw against the Earthquakes, but San Jose’s Simon Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski both scored headers in stoppage time to snap a five-game winless streak against RSL and vault over it for first place in the MLS Western Conference, by one point.
Meanwhile, FC Dallas is coming off a 1-0 loss at Vancouver in which former RSL goalkeeper Chris Seitz played in place of starter Kevin Hartman, the league’s all-time saves leader who was out with back spasms.
However, the Hoops are 3-0-1 at home this season — they’re 3-3-1 overall, for 10 points — and have outscored RSL 18-5 in nine regular-season home meetings at Pizza Hut Park and the Cotton Bowl.
RSL also lost a playoff game in Dallas two years ago.
“We just have to move on,” defender Chris Wingert said. “Three tough ones on the road, but we knew that coming in. … You can’t think about the two losses or the wins before that or anything else. It’s just one game on Wednesday.”
Kreis probably will use a much different lineup at FC Dallas, both to account for the suspensions of Espindola and Olave and also to give some players a break for the second of three games in eight days.
“We have a lot of ideas” about how RSL might adjust its lineup, Kreis said. “We’re in a good place now, because a lot of our guys have played lots of minutes. So I don’t think that we’re going to have much of an issue there.”
RSL at FC Dallas
P Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. MDT TV • CW30