SANDY — Three months ago, everyone in MLS circles was talking about Real Salt Lake. That chatter died off in a big way during the team's struggles in May and June, but maybe that's a good thing.
Ned Grabavoy said RSL has always had more success with the underdog role.
"Sometimes it's a little bit easier without that target on your back. I think more people have jumped off the bandwagon than stayed on, which is fine with us. We'll just keep flying under the radar," said Grabavoy.
Unless Real Salt Lake really picks up the pace over the next month or so, it will continue to fly under the radar while Western Conference leaders Los Angeles, Seattle and Dallas — which have each played at least four more games than RSL — garner all the attention.
Fresh off an unexpected bye because of the postponement in Vancouver, RSL is refreshed physically and mentally and ready to kick off the second half of the MLS season tonight at Rio Tinto Stadium with an 8 p.m. kickoff against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Looking back on the adversity his team has endured in the last five months — losing the Champions League final at home, losing Javier Morales to a broken ankle, having their home unbeaten streak come to an end, playing two months with virtually no healthy strikers — Kreis is excited about the second half of the regular season.
"I think we could be setting ourselves up for a very good second half of the season and a run into the playoffs because of all the stuff that we've had to deal with and learn about ourselves and hopefully be a stronger team now," said Kreis.
RSL still has to prove it on the field, and even though it's unbeaten in six straight league games, the Earthquakes are a scary opponent having earned two straight draws at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It's a team that fights extremely hard. It's a group that fights for their coach. I think it's a group that kind of has their back against the wall a little bit and needs to start picking up points if they want to make the playoffs," said Kreis.
As for Real Salt Lake, in reflecting on the long first half of the season Grabavoy said accumulating 30 points amid all the adversity is pretty good. Sure it could have been better, but an 8-3-6 record is very respectable and still within striking distance of the league leaders.
Over the next three weeks, RSL plays three of four matches at home before embarking on a difficult season-ending stretch, with nine of its final 14 matches on the road.
"I think actually it could be a good thing for our team as we push for the playoffs. Some of those road games are the character-building games that you need as a team," said Grabavoy.2 comments on this story
With such a road-heavy schedule in the final few months, it's vital RSL secures the full three points at home to keep its Supporters Shield hopes alive. Even though Los Angeles has opened up a 12-point gap on RSL in the standings, the Galaxy have played five more games so there's plenty of time for Kreis' team to make up that ground.
The team should get a boost with the likely pairing up top of Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Because of injuries and national team call-ups, RSL's first choice strikers haven't started the same match since May.