As playoffs approach, can RSL regain early season magic?
Lehi • To use a sailing term, Real Salt Lake is in the doldrums.
After a brilliant opening that saw Real begin the Major League Soccer season with four consecutive victories and a run to the CONCACAF championship game, the team has been plagued, by turns, with stagnant calms and fierce thunderstorms.
RSL, bitten by injury and suspension, has followed dominant shutout victories with frustrating shutout losses.
With 12 games to play, including Saturday's contest at always-tough Houston, RSL (10-6-6) sits as the second-seeded wild card team. With eight road games remaining, does Real have enough left to grab the needed points to clinch a playoff berth?
"There are 12 games left and 36 points available," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "It's all to play for still."
Certainly, Real can be thankful for its hot start. In the end the 12 points earned coming out of the gate might be the reason RSL hosts a wild card game at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real sits uneasily in fifth place in the Western Conference with 36 points, four behind Colorado and six points from Seattle, third place and a first-round playoff bye.
"We're kind of treading water a little bit," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "We need to start to pick up points. For now we have a cushion. In a couple weeks, maybe not.
"We're going to have to step up and start getting results on the road."
Kreis has preached performance. He believes that achieving a positive performance on the road will ultimately lead to results.
For example, he was pleased with how RSL played at Toronto last Saturday despite the 1-0 loss.
It was a game that Real dominated.
Although RSL has earned nine points in nine contests away from Rio Tinto Stadium, it is a misleading statistic. RSL won its first two away games.
"We're a strong enough team that we shouldn't have the road record we have right now," Kreis said. "We should be better."
But even Kreis admits that the focus on performance, not results even though results mean everything is a bit of a paradox.
"We just have to continue on in a positive mind set," he said.
Right now, Kreis has Oct. 1 circled on his calendar, and not only because RSL has a road engagement with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
That is the date that Javier Morales, rehabbing a broken and dislocated left ankle, should be healthy and once again being a decider at the midfield position.
By the first game of October, Jamison Olave, Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert should also be at full strength.
Then, the final regular season game, at home on Oct. 22, may see a team surging forward with a full sail.
"We've seen before that that could be the exact right time," Kreis said.
W L T Pts GF GA
Los Angeles 13 3 9 48 35 20
FC Dallas 12 6 7 43 33 26
Seattle 11 5 9 42 35 27
Colorado 10 6 10 40 37 32
Real Salt Lake 10 6 6 36 30 17
Chivas USA 7 8 9 30 30 26
Portland 7 12 5 26 30 40
San Jose 5 9 10 25 26 32
Vancouver 3 12 9 18 25 40
RSL at Houston
P Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
TV • KMYU 2.2 (Comcast 22, Dish Network 12).