Upcoming six-game stretch to test Real Salt Lake's mettle
In one those peculiar quirks of the Major League Soccer schedule, one that was influenced by the addition of six CONCACAF games earlier this year, Real Salt Lake is in the midst of meeting three opponents in six days.
Then come three consecutive road trips that will take Real from coast to coast.
With 19 games down and 15 to play, including Wednesday's match at Sporting Kansas City, RSL enters a number of games that could tell the tale for the rest of its season.
RSL (9-4-6), which sits in fifth place in the Western Conference, comes off a spiritless 2-0 home loss to Columbus. After Kansas City (6-6-9) comes a meeting with New York on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"We've got to be very focused on ourselves right now," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "Anytime you take a loss, especially since it has been awhile since our last loss, it's important really just to look in the mirror, sort ourselves out and handle the details that cost us that game."
The way Real Salt Lake saw its seven-game unbeaten run come to a sudden halt is a point of concern. RSL has had its share of injuries, but the team really felt the absence of defender Jamison Olave, who will continue to be sidelined with a left knee sprain.
Olave could have made a big difference, as both Columbus goals came early within the first 10 minutes and much too easy.
"We didn't do a very good job," RSL midfielder Will Johnson said. "Instead of coming together, we got frustrated with each other, and that kind of showed."
For Johnson, the team's response to adversity was disappointing. There was a lack of collective effort and team spirit.
"We're professionals here, and we understand that every game is not going to be perfect," he said. "When you're down and facing adversity, that's when you need people to step up, come together and fight harder."
Kreis expects his team's performance and attitude to improve. Yet, is he sure?
"I'm very interested in the group's response," he said.
One concern was the play of defender Chris Schuler, whose performance Kreis labeled anywhere from average to subpar. Kreis hinted that Rauwshan McKenzie, released by the then-Kansas City Wizards on Feb. 8, 2010, might start or see significant time.
"We have another center back who is quite capable and has ties to Kansas City, so maybe its time to give him a chance," Kreis said.
Another concern for Kreis has been the rash of injuries, including Olave.
Forward Paulo Jr. reinjured his hamstring, while midfielder Ned Grabavoy's left hamstring might keep him out of action for the next month.
A number of injuries, such as Javier Morales' fractured foot, are the result of bad luck, being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Are others the result of the team playing games since late February? And what will be the toll for the remainder of the season, which ends Oct. 22?
"I do think there is some consideration for playing six games early, for starting our preseason earlier than we ever have before," Kreis said. "What it does make is an extremely long season.
"It's a little amazing. This year, we've faced so many difficulties."
Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City
P At Livestrong Sporting Park Stadium, Kansas City
Kickoff • Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. MDT
TV • KMYU 2.2 (Comcast 22 / Dish 12)
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
Records • RSL 9-4-6, SKC 6-6-9
All-time series • SKC, 5-4-3. Last meeting • 1-1 tie (2010)
About Sporting K.C. • Set a club record on Saturday by extending its unbeaten streak to 13 MLS matches (5-0-8), the second-longest streak in MLS this season.
About RSL • Real has allowed a league-low 0.74 goals-against average and a total of 14 goals so far, including three on penalty kicks.