Soccer: RSL getting defensive as pressure mounts
In his four and a half seasons with Real Salt Lake, defender Nat Borchers has never known RSL's backline to undergo much scrutiny.
"It is strange," the veteran center back said this week, after the focus has been on RSL's defense following a pair of stunning losses.
First, Real blew a 2-0 lead against the Los Angeles Galaxy, then three days later gave up two goals in the final 15 minutes to lose to San Jose. They marked the first back-to-back home losses since Rio Tinto Stadium opened in 2008.
It all makes Saturday's game at the Columbus Crew even more important.
"Three losses in a row are always going to be unfathomable and unacceptable for us," coach Jason Kreis said.
The road match does not have the makings of an ideal bounce-back opportunity. RSL has lost five straight MLS regular-season games at Columbus and on Saturday will be without captain Kyle Beckerman. The midfielder will sit out due to yellow card accumulation.
As for the backline? It's still suspect. Center back Jamison Olave will miss his second consecutive game with a calf injury, and backup Chris Schuler remains injured as well, meaning outside back Chris Wingert will likely start out of position once again.
Kreis said he was pleased with Wingert's performance against the Earthquakes, and said he won about 90 percent of his challenges. However, a late misplay against Alan Gordon gave San Jose a 1-0 lead.
"I feel pretty comfortable there, to be honest with you," said Wingert, who played center back in college. "I was saying that last week, I don't know if that's actually true now."
However, any dissatisfaction at the midpoint of the season should be measured. At second place in the Western Conference, RSL's total of 32 points marks a franchise high after 17 games.
It's just recently that RSL, Borchers said, hasn't "been able to take the bull by the horns."
As Kreis pointed out after the loss to San Jose, RSL seems to struggle when playing from positions of strength. In 2010, after the best season in team history, it lost in the first round of the playoffs to FC Dallas. Last week, with big conference showdowns at home? You already know.
"I guess we do have some sort of power phobia," Borchers said. "I don't know why that is, but we've been in big situations like that before."
And they will be again starting Saturday.
RSL at Columbus
P At Crew Stadium (Columbus, Ohio)
Kickoff • Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • CW30
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 10-5-2 (32 points), Columbus 5-5-4 (19 points)
Series record • RSL 7-10-2
Last meeting • Columbus 2, RSL 0 (July 30, 2011)
About RSL • Is coming off consecutive losses to L.A. Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes. ... Will be without center back Jamison Olave for the second straight game as the defender continues to recover from a calf injury. ... Have recent roster addition Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
About the Crew • Columbus is coming off a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire, which played the final 61 minutes a man down. ... Only two MLS teams have scored fewer goals than Columbus, which has 14 goals in 14 games.