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Slumping no more, RSL makes a surge

Published October 7, 2012 5:51 pm

Soccer • Team rolls toward playoffs with three straight wins.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Seems like just yesterday — doesn't it? — that Real Salt Lake couldn't buy a goal and coach Jason Kreis had to answer question after question about the reasons.

Not anymore.

In the space of just two weeks and three games, RSL has gone from punchless straggler to surging powerhouse, riding three straight victories into an 11-day break that has it looking a lot like a team that could be especially dangerous in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

"This is just the beginning," forward Fabian Espindola said. "The playoffs are going to start, and this is not going to be good enough unless we win the championship. … We have to get going."

Oh, he's going, all right.

After not scoring in 14 games since June 16, the fiery Argentine has found a sensational run of form — scoring three goals with three assists during the winning streak that has RSL alone in second place in the MLS Western Conference standings, on the verge of clinching the second seed for the playoffs.

Espindola struck for both goals in a three-minute span of a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night, after notching a franchise-record three assists in a 4-0 win there over Chivas USA the previous weekend.

In all, Espindola has five goals and three assists in four games at Home Depot.

"I guess he likes this stadium," Kreis said.

What's more, Espindola's goal against Portland in a 2-1 victory two weeks ago shook RSL out of a six-game stretch in which it scored only three times, and he has paired with strike partner Alvaro Saborio (10 of his team-high 17 goals in the last 13 games) to score six of the team's eight goals over the last three games.

"He's been there for us," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "He wants to prove to his teammates and his team that he's here and he wants to play. He wants to prove to the league that he's one of the best forwards in this league. He's been putting forward that effort for a while now, but it's really starting to show."

And just like that, RSL has its swagger back.

Kreis has been trying to instill a playoff mentality in his players, insisting over the past few weeks that RSL is already in the playoffs, effectively. It has clinched its league-leading fifth straight appearance, and is trying now to ensure the smoothest possible path to the MLS Cup title game on Dec. 1 — potentially at Rio Tinto Stadium.

"Obviously we're feeling pretty good now," Kreis said. "We've put ourselves in a good position."

Not only has RSL found it scoring form again, but its defense remains strong.

Although it gave up a world-class strike to the Galaxy's Robbie Keane in the 17th minute on Saturday, the team fought off 73 more minutes of Galaxy pressure to finish the game, and has allowed only three goals in its last six games.

Beating the Galaxy could be especially important, too, considering RSL could meet them again in the playoffs.

"Mostly, it's good for ourselves," defender Tony Beltran said. "We have the confidence and we want to keep this run going. We've said it the past couple of weeks: As far as we're concerned, the playoffs started weeks ago. We want to keep getting results, week-in and week-out and continue that through October and November."

mcl@sltrib.com

Twitter: @MCLTribune —

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