Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SANDY — Jason Kreis believes Real Salt Lake has almost turned the corner on its summer struggles, but it's not out of the woods yet.
Despite back-to-back shutouts last week against Tauro FC and Philadelphia, the fact remains, RSL still hasn't won a league game since July 27. Until that reality changes, Kreis is proceeding cautiously with seven games remaining.
"If we win this weekend and perform well this weekend (against D.C. United), I'll tell you we're through it. I think this weekend is the final hurdle to say we're through the summer mess that we put ourselves in," said Kreis.
Even if Real Salt Lake snaps its four-game MLS winless streak, as far as Nick Rimando is concerned it doesn't change anything.
"Everybody is always trying to catch everybody, and that's us included," said Rimando. "We're never going to think the time is here and we're over a slump or a stretch."
Considering the magnitude of the struggles the past couple months, it may take more than just a win over visiting D.C. United this Saturday to clean up the mess.
When Real Salt Lake beat Chivas USA 3-0 on June 16, it sat comfortably in first place in the Western Conference with a 10-3-2 record. RSL is 3-7-2 in league play ever since, and winning the Supporters Shield doesn't seem realistic anymore.
A more realistic goal would be simply holding off Los Angeles and Vancouver for the coveted No. 3 seed.
With its run of bad form, Real Salt Lake has slipped into a second-place tie in the West with Seattle, a whopping seven points behind league-leading San Jose. Seattle has played two fewer games as well, and it seems only a matter of time before the Sounders pull away into sole possession of second place.
With fourth-place Los Angeles only three points behind RSL and fifth-place Vancouver just six behind, Kreis' team is in a precarious position if it doesn't get its act together soon.
"I have my concerns. We've gone pretty stagnant for the last while. All the teams below us have been moving up," said Kreis.
Even though the top five seeds in the West make the playoffs, the top three get an opening week bye while the No. 4 and 5 seeds battle in a two-game wild card series. Considering all the injury concerns Real Salt Lake has dealt with this season, the last thing it needs is to play two extra games in late October.
Of the five teams jockeying for playoff position in the West, RSL has arguably the toughest remaining schedule with road games at Houston, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Defender Tony Beltran believes everything is still there to play for despite the rough summer.
"The results the past two months haven't been as consistent as the first half of the year, but I still think we're playing good soccer, I do think we're building toward the end of the year based on our play," said Beltran. "It's tough to stay at such a high level and have bounces go your way throughout an entire season, but obviously we've made some mistakes in there. Things are looking like we're going to peak at the right time, which is around the playoffs."
For a team that two months ago seemed like a lock to claim the No. 1 seed, all five seeds are in play down the stretch.
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