Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
For most teams in Major League Soccer, a road game is the last thing a struggling squad wants to see up next on its schedule. For Real Salt Lake, losers of two straight at home, it might be the perfect elixir.
After two stunning losses at Rio Tinto Stadium last week knocked Real Salt Lake off the MLS perch for the first time in 11 weeks, the team travels to Columbus, Ohio, Saturday for one of just five road games against Eastern Conference foes this year.
"Right now, we feel a little bit jinxed maybe at home. So to go away and narrow our focus a little bit might be a very good thing," said coach Jason Kreis.
There was a time in the early days of RSL when a trip east inevitably meant another loss. Not lately, though.
At the midway point of the 2012 season, RSL owns the second-best road record in MLS at 4-2-2. The 14 points collected on the road in eight games is only slightly less than the 18 points through nine games at home.
The road success is a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that won two road games during its 2009 championship season. In fact, the five road victories last season is a record in franchise history, and Real Salt Lake is one away from equaling that mark.
Kreis' team is unbeaten in four straight games away from Rio Tinto Stadium and hasn't given up a goal in 315 straight minutes. During that exact timeframe at home, RSL has conceded seven goals.
With such a defensive disparity home versus away, it's easy to see why Real Salt Lake has hit such a rough patch.
"We're a little bit weak right now. We're not finishing out plays, games. We're not staying sharp and focused throughout the whole play. The goals we're giving up are really poor mistakes," said midfielder Will Johnson following last week's loss to San Jose.
Johnson said RSL needs to get back to grinding out results.
"Team defense is not going our way. We're just leaking goals from mistakes all over the field, it's not just the guys at the back. We're giving teams goals, and if you want to be a championship team you can't expect to win games 3-2. The best teams in the world win games 1-0 with good team defense, and right now we've got nothing close to good team defense," Johnson said.
Real Salt Lake hopes to change that fortune in Columbus before returning to Utah next week for a Wednesday match against Seattle and a Saturday match against Portland.
RSL lost at Columbus 2-1 last June, and it hasn't won a regular season game at Crew Stadium since 2006. It did, however, win a playoff game there in 2009 and then earned a draw in the Champions League quarterfinals in 2011.
Kyle Beckerman is suspended for the match because of yellow card accumulation, but Kreis said Yordany Alvarez has lately been performing well in training and believes he can do the job to keep RSL's road shutout streak going.
Looking back on maybe the most frustrating week of his coaching career, Kreis isn't panicking whatsoever.
"We have that little bit of angst and anger that comes with losing. But we could also look at the video (of L.A. and San Jose games), and it tells you we were dominant against those opponents," said Kreis.
If his team can find a way to clean up those recent bizarre defensive shortcomings, RSL might actually have something to show for that dominance.
"We hold ourselves to our own expectations, and we hold ourselves to our own potential. I look at the group and I know what it can be. There's no more guessing about how good we can be. I know how good we can be, I've seen it before. We will keep striving to be our best," said Kreis.
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