Real Salt Lake focused on performance, not near-record unbeaten streak, ahead of Dallas match

Published: Friday, May 23 2014 7:10 p.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake's Chris Wingert kicks the ball and keeps it from going out of bounds during a soccer game against the Portland Timbers at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, April 19, 2014. Real Salt Lake won 1-0.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SANDY — Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert shrugs when asked about the importance of tying a league record for the longest unbeaten start in MLS history this weekend.

Three other teams — Los Angeles (1996 and 2010) and Kansas City (2000) — began the season with 12-game unbeaten streaks, and RSL heads into Saturday’s clash with FC Dallas on an impressive 11-game run.

“I love that we’re off to a good start and we’re tough to beat, but I really don’t think it matters,” said Wingert. “There’s certain streaks and records that mean a lot to break them. I wouldn’t say this is that big of a deal because we all know it’s more important what you’re doing at the end of the season.”

RSL coach Jeff Cassar echoed that sentiment, saying the only thing that matters is making the playoffs.

“I know it sounds weird, but the records don’t really matter unless we’re winning championships and Supporters' Shield and points at the end because those records will mean something,” said Cassar.

So if 12 straight unbeaten isn’t anything to get excited about, what is? Twenty, 25 — or is 39 the only number that matters?

Midfielder Ned Grabavoy joked that if RSL got to 20 straight unbeaten, then he’ll have something profound to say about the streak’s significance.

Cassar said that if RSL remains unbeaten through 22 games, roughly two-thirds of the season, he’d pat his players on the back because with approximately 48 to 50 points, his team would be close to clinching a playoff berth.

To keep the unbeaten ways going, Wingert stressed the importance of continuing to improve each week, especially with integrating new faces into the lineup more regularly with Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio away at the World Cup.

“We have 100 percent confidence in them that we’re still going to win games, and that goes for the rest of our team,” said Wingert. “We play a long season. As you see with the European clubs who play even more matches than us, it’s the deep teams who tend to be successful throughout the year so we’re going to have to rely on our depth and we’re OK with that.”

The trio of backups — Jeff Attinella, Cole Grossman and Devon Sandoval — accounted for themselves very well last weekend in a win over Colorado, and they’ll need to be just as sharp against struggling Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday.

FC Dallas is 0-5-1 over its past six matches, including a 2-1 loss against Los Angeles on Wednesday, but its speed in the attack can always present problems.

“For us as defenders, we have to make sure we’re in good positions, and as always the best defense we can play is to have the ball in their half and hopefully create chances for us and keeping them far away from their goal,” said Wingert, who acknowledged that fellow outside back Tony Beltran probably won’t push into the attack quite as much.

FC Dallas is 1-0-1 in its past two visits to Rio Tinto Stadium, and combined with its recent struggles Grabavoy said this weekend’s game is a tricky one.

“Sometimes you never know, a wild card can be a dangerous team coming into your place. We’re not quite sure what to expect and who to expect. We need to focus on ourselves and what we’ve been doing the past stretch,” said Grabavoy.

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