Real Salt Lake notebook: Defense key to RSL resurgence

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 7 2011 9:28 p.m. MDT

Toronto's Nick LaBrocca, right, battles with RSL team captain and midfielder Kyle Beckerman during MLS action.

Associated Press

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LEHI — Real Salt Lake's return to its winning ways the past two weeks isn't a coincidence.

Following a crushing 3-2 defeat at Houston on Aug. 20, which was the team's fourth loss in five outings, coach Jason Kreis used the next week of practice to refocus the players defensively.

Without giving away too many tactical secrets, Kreis said, "It's all kinds of details about how we defend and where we defend, and what kind of effort and commitment that takes from every player on the field."

He stressed the importance of dead ball situations and communication throughout the game.

The recommitment defensively paid off in a big way at Chivas USA two weeks ago as RSL won despite playing down a man for more than an hour. Last week, visiting Philadelphia was never allowed to settle into any type of rhythm because of RSL's constant defensive pressure.

The return of Jamison Olave to the starting lineup no doubt made a difference, but so many other tiny tactical nuances were just as important.

"The coaches kind of brought us back and went over what we did in the preseason and the beginning of the season that got us where we were and throughout the last season," said Andy Williams. "Once you work hard on defense, and work hard on denying teams goal scoring opportunities, our chances will come and our opportunities will come and our soccer were come."

Williams said communication between the players on the field was lacking during RSL's disappointing 1-4 stretch, which he blamed partly on differing lineups from week to week.

"I don't think we've had too many back-to-back same lineups throughout the season and that's kind of been affecting us," said Williams.

That will likely continue to be the case as players return from their respective national teams and injuries over the coming weeks. It's a big reason why RSL will need to maintain that defensive focus from here on out if it hopes to be a factor in the playoffs.

BACKLINE QUESTION MARKS: RSL defender Robbie Russell, who was subbed off late in last week's win over Philadelphia because of back spasms, trained with the team on Wednesday but remains questionable for Saturday's game at Seattle.

With limited options behind him though, Russell will likely need to play through the pain.

"We've asked him to probably play through some things here in the last week or so that in a different part of the season we would've said yeah we'll protect you," said Kreis.

Until Chris Wingert returns from his broken wrist or the coaching staff feels comfortable enough to start newcomer Blake Wagner, Russell will likely start.

RELATIVELY FRESH:Kyle Beckerman returned to Utah on Wednesday night after suiting up for the U.S. National Team for a friendly in Belgium on Tuesday.

Despite the fatigue associated with the three-and-a-half-day round-trip jaunt, Beckerman should still be relatively fresh against Seattle.

Beckerman only played in the second half of the United States' 1-0 loss at Belgium, which was a welcome sight for Kreis, who expected Beckerman to perhaps play the full 90 minutes.

RESERVE SETBACK: The RSL Reserves conceded a pair of goals in the opening 25 minutes at Chicago on Tuesday morning in falling to the Fire 2-0. The loss dropped the team's record to 2-5 in the Reserve League season with three matches remaining.

Ned Grabavoy played the first 45 minutes against Chicago as he continues his road back from a groin injury. After missing a month with the injury, Grabavoy finally returned to field last Saturday against Philadelphia, entering the game as a substitute for the final 17 minutes.

Email: jedward@desnews.com

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