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Kragthorpe: RSL rises above worst in MLS at halfway point

First Published      Last Updated Jun 20 2017 06:16 pm


Sandy

Real Salt Lake's season, having become really interesting for the wrong reasons, reached the halfway point with a performance temporarily altering the picture Saturday night.

RSL's 1-0 victory over Minnesota United at Rio Tinto Stadium hardly provided a snapshot of the season, for those who haven't noticed. Real played solid defense and genuinely deserved a win that came via substitute Yura Movsisyan's goal in the 84th minute.

That's what RSL (5-10-2) needed to avoid posting Major League Soccer's worst record, while hitting the middle of its 34-game schedule. Label this effort the start of RSL's move toward a modest goal of keeping this season from becoming a disaster.




A franchise once known for its consistency with seven straight playoff appearances is merely a subject of curiosity in 2017. The team made a coaching change after four games, opponents have scored in flurries and a theme has developed: How bad could this season get?

As of Saturday, the outlook is slightly better. RSL already had allowed practically a whole season's worth of goals — including four to expansion Minnesota in April and a total of 11 during a two-game Texas swing this month. Who says soccer is boring?

"It got to a point where I was tired of being scored on," said RSL coach Mike Petke.

The shutout required only mild effort from goalkeeper Nick Rimando, while his teammates pressured Minnesota's Bobby Shuttleworth all night. And then, after all of his brilliant work, Shuttleworth's fumble in front of the net led to Movsisyan's game-winner.

Petke didn't overreact to the win, which is fair, considering he always asks for perspective. After Friday's practice, he summarized the team's performance as "like any season … as far as ups and downs."

Then again, not every season includes consecutive losses of 5-1 and 6-2.

Injuries and absences for international duty have framed RSL's first half, but the sheer number of goals allowed was overriding any excuses or explanations.

"I've said it since I got here: We're trying to play a little bit differently," Petke said Friday. "But obviously, we've bled a lot of goals, so it's time to be a bit pragmatic and look back on it and perhaps help out a bit defensively."

Petke continued, "It's a line you draw, and you've got to figure out how far on each side you teeter," he said. "So obviously, going into this game, we're starting with a defensive approach. We don't want to give anything up."

How'd that work out?

RSL looked "really just defensively organized," defender Justen Glad said after his first start of the season, and the offense attacked so much that Shuttleworth finally cracked.

Elsewhere in the RSL family, the season's outlook is promising. Real Monarchs can break a United Soccer League record Monday with a ninth straight victory, extending the success that Petke started.

Petke's disclaimer is he's just getting started with RSL, enabling him to dismiss any suggestion that Saturday was a vital checkpoint for his team at the halfway mark. "Nothing's a must-win," he said. "People must live, they must breathe, they must take care of themselves. Must win? C'mon. But we want to win."

That happened against Minnesota. RSL needs wins over San Jose and former Real coach Jason Kreis' Orlando team this month to sustain any kind of upward move. In advance of Saturday's game, RSL defender Tony Beltran said, "To be irrelevant in this league in the standings at this stage, it's not acceptable, and that's when people start losing jobs."

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