Is Real Salt Lake losing its home-field advantage?

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 12:55 a.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake celebrate a goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during their MLS matchup at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Saturday, June 23, 2012. San Jose defeated RSL 2-1.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SANDY — Early in 2011, visiting teams to Rio Tinto Stadium were forced to listen to an inspiring and intimidating Real Salt Lake pregame video with stirring Inception-like music echoing throughout the stadium.

"In the heart of the Wasatch Mountains, the preparation for battle begins. Devoted drums beat claret and cobalt. Inside these walls history has been made. This is our battlefield, this is our fortress," declared the video.

For most of its existence, Rio Tinto Stadium was just that — an impenetrable fortress for road teams.

The fortress appears to be crumbling.

It began a month ago with a stunning loss to lower division Minnesota in the U.S. Open Cup. The misery continued this past week with consecutive losses to Los Angeles and San Jose, increasing RSL's losing streak at home to three straight over all competitions.

For a team that once went 34 straight matches over all competitions from 2009 to 2011 without losing at home, the skid is a disturbing trend as Real Salt Lake reaches the midpoint of the 2012 season.

Are the recent losses a fluke, or is Rio Tinto Stadium a place visiting teams no longer dread?

"It's tough for me to say. I'm discouraged and mad at the world, of course, like I have never been before that I can remember, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel and say that we've lost the mystique of Rio Tinto," said Kreis.

"We just need to correct some small things. For me it's two games in a row … We didn't lose the game, we gave the game away, twice in a row. So if someone comes in here and beats us from end line to end line for 90 minutes then I will have a different answer for you, but right now, we are beating ourselves."

Throughout its epic 34-game home unbeaten streak, Real Salt Lake had several poor performances, but always found a way to grind out at least a draw — nine to be exact. That's not happening this year.

Defensive breakdowns led to four of the five goals scored by San Jose and Los Angeles last week, but realistically they weren't out of character based on 2012 form at Rio Tinto.

At home this year, RSL's record in MLS and Open Cup matches is 6-4-0 with 14 goals against. On the road, it is 4-2-2 with eight goals allowed.

"I said it months ago, we're leaking a lot of goals. I think it's coming from a ton of different things. Whether it's turnovers in the midfield, turnovers in the back or we're not awake on half set pieces," said Ned Grabavoy. "To be one of the best teams, you can't give up goals like that."

The defensive struggles aren't something that just popped up this week either. In earlier victories at home against teams like Montreal, Toronto and Colorado, Grabavoy said mistakes were made but RSL wasn't getting punished for them.

Los Angeles and San Jose certainly punished those mistakes this weekend.

After shutting out three of its first four opponents at home this year, in the six total matches since RSL has allowed 13 goals.

"We've got to get back to getting shutouts and grinding things out," said Nat Borchers.

Ironically enough, Real Salt Lake has been doing just that on the road with three straight shutouts and a 2-0-2 record dating back to an April 21 loss at San Jose.

That defensive mentality has escaped the team at home though.

email: jedward@desnews.com, Twitter: DesNewsReal

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