Real Salt Lake: Time for RSL to flip the script
Potentially favorable stretch for struggling team starts Friday.
By Christopher Kamrani
| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Jul 03 2014 09:48 am
Last Updated Jul 03 2014 10:50 pm
Sandy • Real Salt Lake’s rut, conceivably, should stop soon.
The World Cup is over and done with — at least for those rooting for the Americans. The U.S. Open Cup loss will reverberate for a while, a missed opportunity that RSL so desperately desired for a shot at redemption. The recent schedule tightened on Real Salt Lake and presented a harsh dose of reality. But if the team’s aspirations are indeed another deep playoff run in Major League Soccer and hopefully hoisting the MLS Cup trophy, the well of points that suddenly ran bone-dry the last five weeks must run fresh once again.
Four of the next five matches are inside the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are on their way back to Salt Lake City, having helped the United States men’s national team reach the Round of 16. With RSL earning just two points in its last five league matches, the rest of the West — and the East, for that matter — has caught up to Salt Lake’s sizzling start. There are currently five teams in MLS with 25 points through 16 matches, all of whom sit 10 points behind league-leading Seattle.
Roughly 31/2 months of the regular season remain. It seems like an eternity, but as the first half of the season proved, it can whisk by in a total flash.
"Every stretch is crucial because the points matter just the same," said defender Chris Wingert. "We’ve got to earn maximum amount of points these next few weeks."
The return of Beckerman and Rimando will help because the club, still reeling with injuries heading into the second half of the season, needs its two pillars of the franchise now possibly more than ever. Beckerman, who starred in all three group stage matches for the Americans, didn’t play against Belgium, which may aid in a faster return to the pitch for RSL. Rimando will be an interesting case, as he didn’t see game time, but worked tirelessly in training sessions and put in overtime to help U.S. teammates ahead of matches.
Asked what his reaction would be should either one approach him upon their return from Brazil and say they are ready to play, RSL coach Jeff Cassar smiled.
"Probably not," he deadpanned. "Probably not. … We’ve got to make smart choices with them. Those guys are probably going to say we want to be in there, but we have to make smart decisions for them."
A Fourth of July match could be construed as a bit early to start prepping for launch into a stretch run, but with how tight MLS has configured itself to be in 2014, every result will count toward RSL asserting itself in the playoff race and potentially gaining home-field advantage. Having Beckerman and Rimando should provide a serious boost, but the club continues to miss striker Alvaro Saborio, who remains out until September or October with a foot fracture.
The goals, which came in droves early on in the season, aren’t flowing like they once were.
"I think if you look back, for whatever reason, sometime in the summer, we always go through one of these stretches," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "We’ve got to get ourselves out of it. How we do that is up to us. We’ll find our way out of it."
Friday presents RSL’s first chance at rekindling the fireworks of early 2014.