Sandy • Some combination of reality and rationalizing puts Real Salt Lake in a good place, as of Major League Soccer’s schedule interruption for the World Cup.
It’s just that the team’s most recent impression will have to last for a while.
RSL’s 6-2-7 record is good for 25 points, topped only in the MLS standings by Western Conference rival Seattle’s 10-3-2 mark and 32 points.
With a first-year coach and personnel issues, RSL gladly would have taken 25 points through 15 games, if anyone had made such an offer prior to the season. The problem is that coach Jeff Cassar is having to raise that subject, now that the team is 0-2-1 in its last three games.
Cassar is doing a very nice job, but the judgment of him could be even better.
General manager Garth Lagerwey’s roster is impressive, but RSL has not absorbed the losses of three star players to their World Cup teams as well as he hoped.
Even when RSL tied the longest unbeaten streak to start a season in MLS history, the team’s 6-0-6 record was shaded by some missed opportunities that turned into ties when opponents scored late goals. "You think back at all the games that we could have won or should have won … there could be a ton more positives for the team," Cassar said last week.
Then came Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Portland, Cassar’s first defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium. Portland’s counter-attacks, Tony Beltran’s red card that forced RSL to play a man down for most of the second half and a penalty kick converged to give the Timbers a rare victory over Real. The result was a downer going into the three-week MLS break, during which RSL will play two U.S. Open Cup games.
The team’s picture is "not all dark clouds," midfielder Ned Grabavoy said Saturday, but it’s not as bright as it once was.
And now it gets awkward. RSL fans have to hope midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando will return soon, but that would require cheering against the U.S. team in the World Cup. If their team fails to advance from group play, Beckerman and Rimando would be back for a July 4 home game vs. New England — and maybe even the June 28 game at Chivas USA.
Alvaro Saborio, however, is out until at least late September after breaking his foot in Costa Rica’s World Cup preparation.
Having used 24 players — with 21 different starters — RSL considers itself the deepest team in MLS. That claim could have been validated last week, when Cassar rested several players at Columbus on Wednesday. If RSL could have held on for a road victory and then come home to beat Portland, that dual performance would have made quite a statement.
Instead, Columbus scored a late goal in a 1-1 tie and Portland surged to a win after RSL’s Luke Mulholland scored a first-half goal.
So RSL’s coaches and management can’t feel quite as good about themselves in June, with Seattle a long way ahead in the standings. Cassar and Lagerwey have done well to put the team in its current position amid injuries and other personnel challenges, but they’ll be happy to have Beckerman and Rimando make them look better.
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