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Real Salt Lake ‘can’t seem to catch a break’ but the team is optimistic they can change their fortunes

RSL hasn’t shut out a team in six games but is allowing few shots on goal and still has a positive goal differential.

(Isaac Hale | Special to The Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera (22) and Houston Dynamo midfielder Darwin Ceren (24) compete for possession of the ball during a MLS game between Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, June 26, 2021.

There’s been more frustration than celebration for Real Salt Lake in its first 10 games of the season. The team is creating plenty of opportunities to score, but not capitalizing. The team is plus-2 in goal differential but hasn’t recorded a shutout in six games.

It has all led to an RSL team that is currently ninth in the Western Conference with a 3-3-4 record.

“I feel like defensively as a team, we’ve been doing really well,” defender Aaron Herrera said. “It’s just one lapse in focus and we keep getting punished for it. We can’t seem to catch a break.”

But despite concerns about dropping points, especially at Rio Tinto Stadium, the RSL locker room is projecting confidence and optimism. There’s reason to think, they say, things might be on the verge of turning around.

Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

At Rio Tinto Stadium, Wednesday, 8 p.m.

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For instance: In the last five games, RSL has given up 12 shots on goal. That’s an average of 2.4 per game. RSL also has allowed the second least shots on target, 34, in the league. Nashville SC, LAFC and the Columbus Crew have allowed 33 apiece.

In two of RSL’s games, the club’s defense has only let one shot reach goalkeeper David Ochoa.

The problem, of course, is those shots are going in.

Against Minnesota United and LAFC — the two opponents against which RSL allowed only one shot on goal — those goals meant a draw and a loss, respectively. Both of those games were at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The fact that RSL hasn’t been allowing many shots on goal, however, has the club feeling optimistic.

To turn optimism into results, though, they must clean up the lapses in focus that have been killing RSL. Four times this season, the club has held a 1-0 lead and conceded a tying goal to the opponent. RSL has given up a go-ahead goal three times. And most of those conceded goals have come in the second half.

Coach Freddy Juarez said when he’s looked back at those conceded goals, he sees mistakes that can be corrected by better communication. Those conversations, he said, have been happening in the video room. Overall, he said, he’s been “happy for the most part with our defending.”

Juarez added that throughout the first third of the season, RSL has successfully corrected some issues. The team against San Jose gave up a goal on a cross in the air. Since then, though, RSL hasn’t given up any of those types of goals, he said.

Forward Rubio Rubin said RSL can take some lessons from its game against LAFC, in which L.A. went up 1-0 early and did whatever it took to keep that score and hold on for the win.

“This is the stuff that these good teams are able to figure out and end up killing a game like that and going home with three points,” Rubin said.

RSL has plenty of time to reverse this trend, starting Wednesday in a designated road game against the Vancouver Whitecaps (2-6-3), who have been living in Utah for the first part of the season. Herrera thinks it might just come down to the little things.

“It’s just very minor details and those very minor details will make a big difference in the grand scheme of things,” Herrera said. “So we have to take it to the next level. Whatever that is, we have to do it.”

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