Sandy • His prototypical grin tattooed across his face, Javier Morales summed up soccer, explaining it’s purely a game of momentum. The Real Salt Lake star remembers the summer months when the offense was scoring at an unruly rate, playing wide-open, free-flowing matches against teams from all across Major League Soccer.
But Morales, like other members of RSL, is realistic. October is not August. The 18 goals scored in seven competitions in the dog days of summer helped earn them a playoff berth, but the focus is on now.
“You can’t play the whole year like the same level,” Morales said. “It’s better to stay down now, and then in the playoffs, we can go high again. I believe it’s everything about confidence.”
With a guaranteed home playoff match in tow and a top seed in the Western Conference in sight with a win over Chivas USA on Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL has the opportunity to go down several different paths that could lead the club anywhere from a Western Conference crown to winning the Supporters Shield or a top-three seed to perhaps finishing fourth in the West and hosting a knockout match on Oct. 30.
The possibilities are many, but RSL coach Jason Kreis says it starts with his side and earning a victory, putting pressure on the teams playing this weekend to equal potential 56 points should RSL top Chivas.
“I know that we’ve been talking a lot about ourselves, but I have no problem with that because that’s how we handle every match here — it’s all about ourselves,” Kreis said. “We do the best job we can in all the areas that we know we have to do, then the result will come.”
That means the goals will need to return.
Despite leading the league in goals scored with 55 in 33 matches, RSL has struggled to find the net as of late, scoring three goals in its last five league matches. In Saturday’s impressive 0-0 draw at Western Conference-leading Portland, RSL controlled much of the possession, but finished without a shot on goal.
As Kreis summarized, that’s been a product of September and October, of teams across the league involved in several races being much more cautious of results and not necessarily throwing caution to the wind, opening up and going for goals.
“This is when everything is on the line; the players know that,” Kreis said. “[Players are] not taking grandiose risks to try and go out and all-attack games because there’s always a converse to those risks, that now you get to attacking and maybe you’re picking the ball out of your goal, and you do that one time, at this time of the year, and the game’s over.”
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy said he’s seen the change in mentality of games. In taking on teams with playoff aspirations or Supporters Shield dreams, RSL has had to mold its approach the same way it has the previous five seasons down the stretch of a long season.
“Obviously we know that we’re in the playoffs now, we know we’re going to match up against a difficult opponent, and so can we start to find that playoff form a little bit and be sharp?” Grabavoy said.
Can they? The regular season culminates Wednesday night for RSL against Chivas USA, the worst team in the Western Conference, a chance to earn three points and play the waiting game.
“We fight the whole year for this moment and we have it right now and we have to take it,” Morales said.
Chivas USA at Real Salt Lake
O At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • CW30
Radio • 700 AM, 102.3 FM
About RSL • Face the Goats in their regular-season finale. ... Enter Wednesday in second place in the Western Conference, one point behind the first place Portland Timbers. ... RSL is still alive in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, but they’ll need help; RSL must beat Chivas USA, then see both Portland and Kansas City either lose or tie on Saturday, while the Shield-leading New York Red Bulls must to lose to visiting Chicago. ... A win over Chivas USA guarantees RSL the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. ... Midfielder Javier Morales is expected to start after suffering a sprained ankle in training on Oct. 5. ... Despite leading the league in goals scores with 55, RSL has scored just three in its last five league matches. ... RSL has outscored Chivas USA 21-5 in head-to-head meetings since the 2008 MLS season.
About Chivas USA • Currently the worst team in the Western Conference, Chivas has 26 total points in 32 matches, including 18 losses. ... The Goats are tied for the second-worse record in MLS with Toronto FC. ... Chivas has lost both meetings with RSL this season and enters Wednesday on the heels of a three-game losing streak including back-to-back shutouts to California rivals San Jose and L.A. Galaxy. ... Chivas GK Dan Kennedy is tied for second-most saves in MLS play this season with 104, trailing league-leader Troy Perkins by one save. ... The Goats have allowed more goals thus far this season (60) than any other team in MLS.
W L T Pts GF GA
x-Portland 13 5 15 54 49 33
x-Real Salt Lake 15 10 8 53 55 40
x-Los Angeles 15 11 7 52 52 37
x-Seattle 15 12 6 51 41 41
Colorado 14 10 9 51 45 35
San Jose 13 11 9 48 33 41
Vancouver 12 12 9 45 50 45
FC Dallas 11 11 11 44 47 50
Chivas USA 6 18 8 26 29 60
x-clinched playoffs berth
RSL at Chivas USA, 7 p.m.
Saturday’s Western conference games
FC Dallas at San Jose, 3:30 p.m.
Portland at Chivas USA, 8:30 p.m.