Real Salt Lake aiming to keep playoff spot as it enters second half of season

Herriman • After three weeks of no Major League Soccer competition and an ugly U.S. Open Cup result in between, Real Salt Lake on Tuesday returned to a regular training schedule. Also returning were five players who were on international duty — four with the United States Men’s National Team and the other, Albert Ruśnak, with Slovakia.

But RSL is returning to a somewhat unenviable situation when it comes to the state of its team. The club lost two straight MLS games heading into the break and has dropped three overall after factoring the Open Cup.

With 15 games in the books and the longest MLS break of the season behind it, Reals sit in the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But three teams are within striking distance of RSL, which is still battling inconsistency in form.

So during what is technically the second half of the season — RSL has 19 games left — the team is looking to secure its playoff spot that, for the moment, is hanging by a thread.

“We need to go at it,” forward Sebastian Saucedo said. "This is the most important thing: whether we make playoffs. We have to make it. This is where we see what type of character RSL has.”

Defender Nedum Onuoha assessed the first half of RSL’s season as “up and down,” a sentiment that’s been a running theme throughout the year. There was that rash of red cards early in the season that played a hand in a four-game losing streak, culminating in coach Mike Petke challenging his team to “grow up.”

Just a couple of months later, RSL beat the defending MLS champs for its third-straight win in a game where Jefferson Savarino, who is currently with Venezuela on international duty, provided the most exciting moment of the season.

Now it’s in another lull. But Onuoha intimated not only that he and his teammates have put the last three games behind them, but also that those losses aren’t indicative of the team’s quality.

“I think if it was the case that we were at our maximum and we still lost those games, then it would be a really tough situation to be in,” Onuoha said. “But I don’t believe we were anywhere near our best in those moments. To have the break to try and figure out what we need to do to get bet back there again, in some ways it’s positive.”

Midfielder Damir Kreilach said the team wants to be more “unbeatable” on the road during the second half of the season. RSL currently averages 0.78 points per game away from Rio Tinto Stadium.

But even more than that, Kreilach said, the team just needs to earn points regardless of how it plays. He reiterated the importance of earning a chance to compete in the postseason.

“In this part of the season, the most important thing [is] to keep the playoff spot,” Kreilach said.

Aside from the goal of keeping its playoff spot, RSL might also look to tweak some aspects of its week-to-week preparation. Petke said the coaching staff conducts heavy research into its opponents and that maybe it was time to look inward a bit more.

“[I am] starting to think that maybe we do a little too much on how they’re going to play and what to expect from them and how we can adapt to them,” Petke said. “We want to start making teams adapt to us as much as possible.”