Real Salt Lake looks to start 2020 season faster than previous years

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach (8) puts a header into the goal in the first half as Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers play in their first MLS playoff game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.

Herriman • It’s no secret that Real Salt Lake has gotten off to slow starts in the past few seasons. In 2019 alone, it went 3-6-1 in the first 10 games by losing twice at home, enduring a road-heavy schedule and being mired in red cards.

RSL would like to turn that statistic around heading into the 2020 season.

“Our goal is to be on a great level in the first couple of games and then try to continue with those good games,” midfielder Damir Kreilach said Wednesday at the team’s annual media day.

Salt Lake used a second-half surge last year to earn its No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. It wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances from a consistency standpoint, but no one with the club was complaining about that at the time.

What was difficult, however, was starting the season with a host of road games. Six of the nine matches to start 2019 were on the road, and it was a similar case in 2018 as well.

Midfielder Albert Rusnák said the lack of home games early in recent seasons could be the sole reason RSL has struggled so much during those stretches. But 2020 is slightly different in that regard, with five of the first 10 games at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“Hopefully we can get the points as soon as possible,” Rusnák said.

Veteran midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who recently re-signed with the team, said the slow start in 2019 had less to do with opponents and more to do with misfortune.

“There was quite a few losses early that wasn’t so much the other team kind of beating us,” Beckerman said. “It was kind of factors in the game that kind of didn’t go our way early in the season.”

Several RSL players had different thoughts on what it would take for the club to have a better start to the season. Goalkeeper Andrew Putna feels it just comes down to being more consistent throughout the year.

“I just think we have to have the urgency from the start of the season,” Putna said. “I think if we can just become a more consistent team over whole the season, we won’t have to worry about the end.”

Putna said there wasn’t much of a concern last season over how the team started because it ended up in third place. But that fortune isn’t always guaranteed. He said it’s just as likely that RSL could try turning the corner later in the season and still end up fighting for the last playoff spot or narrowly missing out.

Defender Aaron Herrera also thinks RSL needs to set the tone to start the season. In his mind, that starts with the defensive end of the field. He said the team’s goal is to concede the last amount of goals in the league in 2020.

“Last year, we had a couple of games where we conceded four or five goals early on in the season,” Herrera said. “So if we can sort of steer away from that and then take our chances, we’ll be good.”

Defender Nedum Onuoha, however, thinks focusing on a faster start is not as necessary as it seems. He cited the fact that LAFC, as prolific as it was, didn’t win the championship last season, and Seattle won the title despite its slower start.

“A good start, yes, it is important,” Onuoha said. “But it’s not the be all and end all of everything because nothing is won in those first few weeks. But I think if we get the preseason right, I expect us to start pretty well.”

With the core players back this year, the added depth in certain positions, and higher expectations, RSL seems primed to pick up more points to start the year. Beckerman said last season’s experiences could help with that as well.

“Hopefully this year’s different,” Beckerman said.