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RSL defender Nat Borchers, dueling here with Vancouver's Darren Mattocks, says Real must focus on itself and ignore the heat, injuries and other factors as the team heads into its final nine MLS games of the season. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
Real Salt Lake gears up for final 9 games
First Published Aug 17 2012 03:57 pm • Last Updated Aug 18 2012 11:37 pm

Sandy • And down the stretch they come.

It may still seem like a long way off — the marathon Major League Soccer season doesn’t end until October.

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But with just nine MLS games remaining, including Saturday night’s home match against suddenly hot FC Dallas, the final two months for Real Salt Lake will seem like a blur.

"The preseason goes forever," RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "The season flies by."

There is time enough left to correct the things that need correcting as well as healing the bodies that have been bent and bruised.

But is there no getting around it: Some opportunities have been squandered.

Points at home have been lost, most notably to San Jose and Los Angeles. Pick those two wins up and RSL is leading the Western Conference. Real also has struggled on the road, dropping four straight away from Rio Tinto in MLS play.

Still, RSL (13-9-3) remains in second place, five points behind San Jose and five ahead of the surging Galaxy. The team’s outlook remains positive.

"We talk about what has happened over the last two months, and it certainly hasn’t been the way we expected or wanted it to be or hope for it to be," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "Having said that, for all the things that went wrong we still have a chance to win the Supporters’ Shield. The MLS Cup is still there. The playoffs are very likely a possibility, and advancing in CONCACAF is still there as well. So every goal we started off the season with is still there to be attained."

The push begins Saturday at 7 p.m. against FC Dallas (7-11-8).

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A month ago, this game looked easier. With a productive David Ferreira and Brek Shea, Dallas is closing in on a final playoff position. The club is coming off of back-to-back wins against Vancouver and Colorado, two teams that recently defeated RSL.

"They’re a team that is incredibly hungry right now," Kreis said.

After Saturday, RSL has just three remaining home MLS games, including two teams — D.C. United and Vancouver — that are battling for playoff positions. Of the five remaining road matches, three — Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle — are against playoff-bound teams.

"We’re in the home stretch, for sure," RSL midfielder Will Johnson said. "It’s time to start getting things wrapped up, time to get ourselves in the playoff position we want to get. We have to make sure we’re mentally and physically squared away to get ready for the final push."

RSL was 4-4-2 going down the stretch last season, making it to the Western Conference finals despite a late-season fizzle. Real would much prefer to finish like it did in 2010, when the team caught fire and went 5-0-5 in its final 10 games.

"The most important thing is for us is to play well," RSL defender Nat Borchers said. "There are factors involved — heat, injuries. It’s more important than ever to focus on ourselves."

And that starts Saturday.


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