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Real Salt Lake: RSL aiming to seize moment against Chivas USA

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(Kim Raff | The Salt Lake Tribune) (front) Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy (20) tries to hang on to the ball as (back) Chicago Fire forward Patrick Nyarko (14) attacks from behind during the first half of the match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on May 25, 2013.

By Christopher Kamrani

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Oct 22 2013 06:34PM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:36PM

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.

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