Ailing Real Salt Lake hopes to end their Pizza Hut Park hex

Published: Saturday, May 21 2011 10:45 p.m. MDT

DALLAS — Until Real Salt Lake does something to change its putrid history in Dallas, the same cliched story lines will hold true for its annual visit.

In nine career matches in Dallas, including last year's playoff loss, RSL's all-time record is 0-9-0 with a minus-14 goal differential.

RSL hopes to finally undo its Pizza Hut Park hex today at 5 p.m. Even though his team is facing some rare adversity and struggling to score goals, for once coach Jason Kreis would like to see his team put a consistent effort on the field against FC Dallas.

"I would like to go there and say that we put a 90-minute effort in and looked strong, and played well enough that we could walk off proud regardless of a result," he said. "I don't think we've done that yet, that would be a good first step."

RSL's road struggles aren't exclusive to just Dallas. Even though it's earned some ties along the way, the club is also winless in Houston (0-6-1), D.C. United (0-3-3), New York (0-3-3), Toronto (0-2-2), Seattle (0-1-1) and Philadelphia (0-0-1).

Through the years, the players and coaches have pinpointed a lot of reasons for the struggles, and based on similar results in Houston, it's tough to ignore the reality of climate and geography. As much as playing at elevation in the desert climate helps RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium — where the team is unbeaten in 29-straight league games — it hurts when playing in humidity.

RSL is known for its late heroics at Rio Tinto Stadium, as it often capitalizes on a tiring opponent.

The reverse has applied in Dallas. Since Kreis took over as head coach in 2007, of RSL's five losses, it has conceded the winning goal after the 81st minute on three occasions.

"This is one of those games and one of those stats that we wanted to change this year. We didn't want them to keep that stat over us down there," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.

If it sounds familiar, it's because it's roughly the same sentiment the players had heading to Dallas for the first game of last year's Western Conference semifinal.

It got off to a promising start, with Fabian Espindola scoring in the fifth minute, but things gradually unfolded after that, with former RSL player Jeff Cunningham scoring in the 44th minute, Javier Morales being ejected in the 69th minute and then Eric Avila scoring the winner for Dallas in the 88th minute.

The circumstances are vastly different tonight.

RSL went into that playoffs a year ago on a 13-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. This year it is 2-2-2 over its past six games. In the three league games since falling to Monterrey in the Champions League final, RSL's confidence going forward seems to have vanished with just one goal.

In fact, in last week's scoreless draw against Houston, it registered just one shot on goal.

With its current run of form, now definitely isn't the time RSL needs to be visiting its personal house of horrors.

"They're a good team, obviously we've had our struggles down there. It will be a good opportunity to go down there and play well and get a result," said Will Johnson.

Tonight will be RSL's second game without Morales. For Dallas, this will be its fourth game without reigning league MVP David Ferreira, who broke his ankle on a tackle from behind as well. Dallas is 3-0-1 since he went down.

If history is any indicator, Real Salt Lake will play tough for most of the match but eventually tire and surrender a late goal. Beckerman hopes a positive result can restore some confidence and point the team back to its winning ways.

"This could be a turnaround for us. We know it's going to be tough, but if you look at the stats, we have no pressure," he said.

Email: jedward@desnews.com

TWITTER: @DesNewsReal

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