SANDY — About 30 minutes into Real Salt Lake's ugly victory over Kansas City on Saturday, Andy Williams made a simple, yet important, defensive play that symbolizes the reason behind RSL's resurgence the last month.
Sensing a dangerous scoring opportunity for Kansas City developing at the edge of the penalty area, Williams sprinted 30 yards toward the box to help teammate Robbie Russell in a 1v1 situation with Kansas City playmaker Omar Bravo. Williams quickly won the ball and the danger was averted.
Little defensive plays like that have been happening much more frequently lately, and it's a big reason why RSL has won four straight.
"That kind of started from the Houston game. We had a team meeting when we got back here and watched the video, which we don't usually do. We've kind of gone back to what we're successful at, which is double-teaming guys and communicating well, and we didn't do that particularly well in that (Houston) game," said Williams. "I think we've done pretty awesome since then."
At the heart of that defensive resurgence are midfielders like Williams, Will Johnson and Kyle Beckerman, who are continually double-teaming attacking players all over the field.
Johnson specializes in that type of high pressure defense, so his commitment is no surprise. Williams, who openly admits defense isn't his strength, has been just as influential though.
"It seems like this time of year is Andy Williams' time. The amount of work he's putting in right now is incredible. Obviously he deserves to keep playing," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Williams has started three straight matches for RSL, and with as well as he's playing the winning streak probably isn't a coincidence.
"I kind of like crunch time I guess. I look forward to it. I know the most important games of the year are at the end of the year," said Williams, who's played in 326 career MLS matches. "It's important that we start hitting our stride now. Since that Houston game we've kind of done that."
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said Williams' experience has made a big difference lately, and he's one of the guys the team can count on during crunch time.
There have only been three four-game winning streaks in MLS this year, and Real Salt Lake has two of them. None of the victories in its current streak have been a thing of beauty, which is fine with Kreis — his team is trending in the right direction.
"We're just looking to improve every game, if we can improve in one aspect moving towards the playoffs, then we'll put ourselves in a really good position to compete for it all," said Kreis. "Right now the improvement that I'm seeing over the last four matches is that fight, that willingness to stick to together and that willingness to close down the extra yard out of people like an Andy Williams."
If the attacking quality comes around, which hasn't been stellar lately, RSL will be a dangerous team in the playoffs.