By winning at one of its most familiar venues to restart its season, Real Salt Lake has put itself in a most unfamiliar position:
With its season hitting the halfway mark next weekend, the team is in control of the Major League Soccer regular-season title chase like never before. It’s atop the league standings with 32 points and the league’s best goal differential, following its dominating 3-0 victory over Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.
“We were beaten by a better team,” the Goats’ Ryan Smith said.
With two games in hand, Sporting KC can conceivably pull even with RSL.
But RSL also is two points clear of Eastern Conference leader D.C. United with a game in hand, and six of its next eight at Rio Tinto Stadium.
For the first time in its history, it’s in position to be the team that goes down the stretch as the one that others are chasing — rather than one trying to catch up.
Even during its best regular season, in 2010, RSL was stuck futilely trying to catch the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“I’m really pleased that the guys showed they’re happy to be back together and chomping at the bit for another difficult segment of our season,” coach Jason Kreis said.
The victory at Chivas commenced another three-games-in-eight-days stretch for RSL, its fourth of the season.
But it has negotiated that challenge well so far, going 6-1-2 in that situation, and can further cement its top-of-the-table standing if it can beat the last-place Galaxy on Wednesday and title challenger San Jose on Saturday — both at home, where it has lost only once this season.
“It’s a great start to a three-game week,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said after beating Chivas. “But it’s a quick turnaround. We have to put this in the past quickly and get ready for Wednesday.”
Still, the team is well rested after playing just one league game in the previous five weeks, and almost everybody is healthy.
While reserve midfielder Luis Gil and reserve defender Chris Schuler remain sidelined — Gil has strained knee ligaments, and Schuler is recovering from a stress reaction in his foot — star midfielder Javier Morales played 30 minutes against Chivas in an encouraging return from a quadriceps injury.
If he can stay in the lineup, RSL becomes exponentially more dangerous — another reason it figures to be the team to beat in the second half.
“Of course he’s not 100 percent fit right now,” Kreis said, “and certainly not going to be at the top of his game. But I think as we go forward, he has shown us over the last week in training and in some moments [against Chivas] that he’s definitely still got it, and we’re big believers in him.”
Home sweet home
RSL plays six of its next eight games at home:
• Wednesday, Los Angeles, 7 p.m.
• Saturday, San Jose,7 p.m.
• June 30, at Columbus, 6 p.m.
• July 4, Seattle, 8 p.m.
• July 7, Portland, 7 p.m.
• July 14, at San Jose, 8:30 p.m.
• July 21, Colorado, 8 p.m.
• July 27, Vancouver,7 p.m.