SANDY — Tonight is the midway point of the MLS season for Real Salt Lake, and coach Jason Kreis admits it's time to start looking at the standings.
"It's time to start … figuring out what we need to do to make sure we get ourselves a playoff spot, challenge for Supporters Shield and challenge for the Western Conference title," said Kreis.
That push begins tonight against visiting FC Dallas in what Kreis called the biggest regular season match to date.
Dallas has vaulted to the front of the Supporters Shield conversation with three straight victories and a 9-1-3 record since a disappointing opening month of the season. It sits on 34 points in the standings, just two behind Los Angeles which has played two more games.
RSL occupies the fourth spot in the West with 27 points, but it's played four fewer games than the Galaxy and two fewer than Dallas.
"This is a six-point game. If we can get a win tomorrow, then we're three points closer and we still have two games in hand," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
With a 1-1-4 record in its past six games, RSL knows it needs to start winning some of those games in hand to keep itself in the hunt for the league's best record.
"We're just going to keep try and improving. Our record, we're still all right. We're still in the hunt for everything we set out to get except for the CONCACAF, so we just have to keep improving," said Beckerman.
RSL will be without center back Nat Borchers, who is suspended because of Monday's red card against New England. The timing of the absence is less than ideal as Dallas comes into the match with the second-highest scoring attack in MLS, with Brek Shea leading the way with eight goals. The rising star has scored in four straight and will be a handful for an RSL defense that still leads the league with only 12 goals allowed.
"They've been playing at a high level for a couple years now. It's exciting," said midfielder Will Johnson. "These are the kind of games you want to play in. You want to play against good teams and test yourself against good opposition."
Johnson said the team has done a good job refocusing since Monday's disappointing result, but admits it's been tough.
"Things keep going against us. It's kind of a weird feeling, kind of like is this going to happen all year to us or are we going to catch a break every now and again," said Johnson.
This is the first of two meetings between RSL and Dallas, with the second coming in Dallas on Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match.
Both are equally as important, but Kreis said he can't concern himself with the latter just yet.
"Right now we just stay completely focused on (Saturday) night's game, and immediately when that's over we start concerning ourselves with Tuesday night's game," said Kreis, whose team is 0-9-1 all-time in Dallas.
To get the result it desperately needs at Rio Tinto Stadium, Kreis said RSL needs to play with the same fighting spirit that vaulted it into the conversation as best MLS team ever just three months ago. Otherwise, Dallas will stroll right in and steal the points.