Tom Smart, Deseret News
SANDY — Make no mistake about it, Real Salt Lake is very aware of the L.A. Galaxy's struggles this season.
The RSL players and coaches know full well that the defending MLS champs have just four wins and sit 18 points out of first place. Even expansion Montreal has more points than the Galaxy at this juncture of the season.
Heading into tonight's rematch of last year's Western Conference final, RSL coach Jason Kreis said the 18-point gap between his team and the Galaxy is of no consequence.
"We look a little bit more closely at scores and records, and L.A. is still a very, very good team. We need to be focused on the opponent we're playing and not the record we're playing against," said Kreis.
The Galaxy are just 4-8-2 on the season and 1-4-1 away from the Home Depot Center, but Ned Grabavoy said it's imperative he and his teammates erase that reality from their memory for the 7 p.m. kickoff at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"I don't really care where they are in the table. They're still defending their title," said Grabavoy.
L.A. still has plenty of time — 20 games to be exact — to claw back into the MLS playoff picture, but a third straight Supporters Shield seems like a hopeless cause. Real Salt Lake has made sure of that.
Following an RSL loss at San Jose on April 21 and an L.A. win over Colorado on the same night, Real Salt Lake's cushion in the standings was just four points, 15 to 11.
Since that late-April evening, however, RSL has reeled off a 5-0-2 record that includes last weekend's 3-0 win at Chivas USA. The Galaxy, meanwhile, struggled mightily during the same stretch with a 1-5-2 record. That one win, however, came last Sunday against visiting Portland.
It may signal that the champs sense the urgency created by their dismal start.
"They're obviously struggling a bit in the beginning of the year, but they have a veteran group of guys and some good players and I think they'll sort it out as the season goes on," said Grabavoy.
Expect an RSL team that hasn't played a home match since crashing out of the U.S. Open Cup against lower-division Minnesota three weeks ago to put its best foot forward.
"I'm really excited to get back out here in front of our fans and quite certain all of our players feel the same," said Kreis.
In addition to its seven-game unbeaten streak, which is tied for the third-best stretch in franchise history, RSL has also won five straight at Rio Tinto Stadium. It has never won six in a row at home.
Midfielder Javier Morales is a strong candidate to return to the starting lineup against the Galaxy after playing 30 minutes in a substitute role last weekend against Chivas. For the most part, RSL has raced to the best record in MLS this season without its most creative attacking player.
As Morales nears full fitness, and with four of RSL's next five matches at home, Kreis' team is poised to open up a larger gap on the Galaxy and the rest of MLS if it maintains its current form.
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