SANDY — Real Salt Lake and D.C. United are in pretty similar positions heading into their clash at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. Back in June, both were first-place teams in their respective conferences and playing some of the best soccer in MLS.
Both, however, have drifted from their conference perches over the past two months, and playoff berths and seeding are very much still up in the air. The desperate nature of both teams should make for an intense match for the 7 p.m. kickoff.
RSL is 3-7-2 in its last 12 league games and hasn't won since July 27. D.C. United, meanwhile, is 3-5-2 in its last 10 and has lost five straight road games.
Despite the parallel struggles, D.C. United's playoff fate is much more chaotic.
Real Salt Lake has an 11-point cushion over FC Dallas in the Western Conference playoff standings, and with only seven games remaining, a collapse of that magnitude is highly unlikely. Based on its own stagnant form lately, and the improved play of teams such as Seattle and Los Angeles, it seems more and more likely that RSL will qualify as a No. 4 or 5 seed for the playoffs than a 1, 2 or 3 seed.
The players hope three days off last weekend helps alter their current trajectory.
"There's been a lot more energy through the week, you can tell the guys' legs are coming back. Guys look energized out there and are ready to go," said Nick Rimando.
Energy could be a big issue for D.C. United, which is in danger of falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture this weekend.
D.C. United is coming off a 2-2 draw against New York on Wednesday, a game it was poised to win until a Wilman Conde 88th minute equalizer for the Red Bulls. D.C. is tied with Chicago for fourth place in the East with 41 points, but Columbus and Montreal are hot on their heels with 39 points.
RSL coach Jason Kreis said that despite those recent struggles, D.C. United still features four quality attacking players who are very good taking defenders on one and one. For an RSL defense that's been banged up much of the summer, that could present some problems.
"They have a lot of special players on their team. Ben Olsen has them working hard, together, running really hard and then defending really hard," said Rimando. "(Dwayne DeRosario) and (Chris) Pontius, they can do special things, so we've got to make sure defensively we're sound and paying attention to their main guys."
Real Salt Lake is feeling pretty good about itself defensively coming off shutouts last week against Tauro FC and Philadelphia. With rested legs, Kreis is hoping to see his team build on that momentum with a spirited effort against D.C. United.
"We should be chomping at the bit for a good performance and a good result that we desperately need this weekend," said Kreis.
With four of its final six games on the road after Saturday, maximum points at home is a must for RSL if it hopes to hold off Los Angeles and Vancouver for the coveted No. 3 seed in the West.