Tom Smart, Deseret News
SANDY — For Real Salt Lake fans hoping to see a bit more panic and desperation from the team following a 5-0 loss at league-leading San Jose, and a 1-4-1 record over the past month, don't hold your breath.
No one is popping off in the media, no one is sounding off on Twitter and training sessions appear only mildly more intense. If you're a fan wanting to see urgency, you'll have to look elsewhere, like in Portland or Dallas.
Like it or not, it's business as usual for Real Salt Lake.
"That's all you can do in this business. Sometimes you just have to survive and get through tough, difficult periods. You have to come together. We're a group that's been together a long time, we know how to handle adversity for sure," said defender Nat Borchers.
That maturity is what enables the players to maintain an even-keeled approach even when things are crashing down around them.
A month ago, RSL was the toast of MLS with a 10-3-2 record. Heading into a stretch with six of its next nine games at Rio Tinto Stadium, it was poised to run away with the Supporters' Shield. It has since lost 4four of its last six, and slipped seven points behind West-leading San Jose.
Last weekend's 5-0 debacle in San Jose, which marked the second-worst loss in franchise history, seemed like the perfect opportunity for some passionate outbursts from players about the state of the team.
Fans got zero, zilch, nada.
At times that passiveness comes off as indifference, but Borchers said that's definitely not the case.
"I don't know that anybody doesn't get passionate about losing, or doesn't hate losing as much as we do," said Borchers, who said there's been a bit more bite in training sessions this week. "I think everybody is passionate on this team."
At times, the players seem aloof after losses, but that calm demeanor has been the trademark of coach Jason Kreis' team since the 2009 championship season.
"I think being even-keeled and mature in your responses to questions from people and what's out there in the public, shows that they get it. They understand, they're professionals," said Kreis. "I'd tell you there's a lot more fire in the belly (than they're letting on), and you hope that's the stuff that comes out in the 90 minutes between the white lines."
While his players have stayed the course, behind closed doors Kreis has wracked his brain about solutions to a problem that began with the collapse against the L.A. Galaxy on June 20. After analyzing and over-analyzing the defensive breakdowns and other shortcomings, Kreis always comes back to one conclusion.
"I don't think we need to do anything differently. I just think we need to do what we can do better," he said.
With just over a third of the season remaining, Kreis doesn't see any point in sweeping changes for a team that's still tied for the second-best record in MLS.
"We've got to take care of all the details. We have to be the team that wants to work harder. We've got to be the team that shows that they want to win more. Almost every time we do that, when we put everything into the matches, we get the exact result we want," he said.
As much as anything, though, the team needs to get healthy. Nobody wants to see injuries used as an excuse for failure, but they've crippled RSL's backline.
It started with Chris Schuler's foot injury, which is still lingering and the time frame for his return has been pushed back to August. His injury forced Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave to work even harder, and neither has been operating at 100 percent lately.
Kreis said RSL is nearing full strength, but it may not actually ever happen. Of the team's core group of contributors, seven are over 30 years old — including three defenders. Defense has been RSL's bread and butter since 2010, but it ranks in the bottom half of MLS with 26 goals allowed this year.
Shorthanded or not, the five goals conceded at San Jose last weekend raises RSL's total to 12 in the past six matches.
Sounds like a good reason to panic, right?
"We've got to stick together," said Will Johnson. "When we're in a slump, we try and stay positive, and even when we're winning, we don't get too high on ourselves and overplay it. I think it's good to keep it this way."
Johnson said the team just needs to get through the summer, get players healthy and everyone will forget all this nonsense.
"This is an organization built on winning. Fans expect winning, media expects winning, we expect to win, and so we need to get back to that winning culture. We've set the bar pretty high for ourselves and we need to get back to that level," he said.
Don't ever expect any extra urgency to make it happen though.
Real Salt Lake won the MLS Cup in 2009 as the last seed in the playoffs. It lost to Dallas in the first round of the 2010 playoffs despite owning the second-best record in MLS. Last year it went into the playoffs on a six-game winless streak with a minus-10 goal difference, yet still stunned Seattle in the first round to advance to the conference final.
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