The standards temporarily have changed at Rio Tinto Stadium. That's what a three-game losing streak will do for one of Major League Soccer's best teams.
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis stopped just short of being satisfied after Wednesday's 0-0 tie with the Seattle Sounders FC. His usual stance is that nothing but a victory and three points in the standings are acceptable when RSL plays at home, but these circumstances were different.
Besides, Kreis' strategy worked. He radically changed his defensive lineup, and the result was a shutout.
A tie, yes, but a shutout RSL's first blanking since its last victory, June 16.
Summarizing the outcome, Kreis said, "We'll say we didn't lose the game, so the glass is half full."
This is what Kreis does so well: When a season needs to be saved, he always comes up with something. Whether he's dealing with injuries, suspensions or international duty, he manages to stabilize his team.
That's how RSL maintains remarkable consistency and avoids prolonged slumps. Maybe the baseline for judging success became adjustable, but that's OK. This team needed something positive to happen Wednesday, and Kreis was willing to give his players credit.
I can call it a four-game winless streak; Kreis' version is the three-game losing streak ended. We're both right.
Kreis gave defenders Kenny Mansally and Kwame Watson-Siriboe their first Real playing opportunities Wednesday, making them starters. Amid injuries to defenders Jamison Olave, Tony Beltran and Chris Shuler, Kreis figured he needed to try something new, rather than just move his regulars into different positions.
The moves were reminiscent of last year, when Kreis pieced together one creative lineup after another during what he labeled "a trying season." RSL managed to finish third in the Western Conference standings and beat Seattle in the playoffs.
The latest sign that things were different at Rio Tinto came during the pregame introductions. Public address announcer Mike Waldvogel usually gives only the first name of each RSL starter, and the crowd responds with the last name. In the cases of Mansally and Watson-Siriboe, Waldvogel was compelled to deliver the full names himself.
The new guys played well enough to keep Seattle off the scoreboard, but Real never could score itself. Kreis tried to push for a late goal by replacing Mansally with midfielder Johnny Steele in the 79th minute, but the strategy did not result in any great offensive chances.
Weird stuff has been happening to RSL, ever since the team came home in mid-June after beating Chivas USA 3-0 in Los Angeles. Real responded by blowing a two goal-lead in a loss to the L.A. Galaxy, then missed all kinds of scoring opportunities and suffered defensive lapses in a 2-1 loss to San Jose, falling out of the Western Conference lead.
Then came a trip to Columbus, where a power outage threatened to postpone the game. The Crew won 2-0, extending RSL's misery.
So nobody was sure what to expect Wednesday. The funny thing about this slump is that even after three defeats, RSL remained in position to claim the most wins in franchise history through 19 games. Kreis and his players were determined not to overreact to the slide, yet they also really wanted to reward a sellout crowd even before the postgame fireworks were launched.
So the night could be categorized as a partial success for Real (10-6-3). RSL may not like home ties, but this result spoke of progress. Subjectively, Real "looked like the more dominant soccer team," according to Kreis, even if the score officially was even.
These days, both judgments represent improvement.