Struggling Real Salt Lake can't look past last-place Montreal

Published: Wednesday, July 23 2014 8:30 p.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers (6) and Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman (5) complain about a penalty kick against Real that resulted in a goal for Vancouver FC in Sandy Sunday, July 20, 2014. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SANDY — Nat Borchers has been the rock of Real Salt Lake’s back line for the past seven years, but when he takes the field Thursday against visiting Montreal (Ch. 30, 8 p.m.), will some of that edge be missing?

Last Saturday he appeared to make a perfectly timed challenge in the box against Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks, but bizzarely was still whistled for a penalty kick. Dumbfounded that the ref could deem a close, yet perfect challenge penalty worthy, Borchers admits it might have an impact on his psyche going forward.

“As a defender you have to think twice in the box, especially with what happened to me on Saturday. You have to be a little more thoughtful about challenges in the box for sure,” said Borchers.

Leaguewide, defenders need to be more careful. Through only 180 total games this year, there have already been 88 penalty kicks given. In the previous three seasons, the total leaguewide PKs were 84, 72 and 81, respectively.

There have been penalty kicks awarded in five of Real Salt Lake’s last seven matches — four against and two for.

Whether they were justified PKs or not, RSL avoided the game-changers early in the season but lately they’ve become a big problem as evidenced by a 1-4-3 record dating back to May 24.

“Definitely during this streak we’ve had some bad bounces for sure. But if you do the right things, and continue to play the right way, I think those bounces even out and I think we’re just getting over that hump now,” said Borchers.

On paper, Thursday’s Pioneer Day opponent is exactly what struggling Real Salt Lake needs.

Montreal sits dead last in the MLS standings with 14 points through 18 matches, and is the lowest-scoring team in MLS with 18 goals. The Impact have lost three straight, but RSL coach Jeff Cassar said last week’s 2-1 loss at Columbus was proof that they can still be very dangerous.

Montreal striker Marco Di Vaio is a very dangerous player who can flip a game on its head with one touch of the ball. That’s exactly what he did in the first half against Columbus.

“Obviously Da Vaio doesn’t need much to get a shot off. Most of all of his shots are on target. His goal against Columbus came completely against the run of play. Columbus is dominating play, creating chances, not putting any away and they go in at half down 1-0,” said Cassar.

That assessment probably sounds eerily familiar to RSL fans. It’s a script that's unfolded countless times at Rio Tinto Stadium through the years.

Despite Da Vaio’s early goal, Columbus rallied with two second-half goals for the victory, and Cassar said similar patience will be the key against Montreal.

“If you can keep them off the board chances are you’re going to get a good result against them,” said Cassar

No matter how RSL gets it done, Cassar basically called Thursday a must-win game as only two points separates second place and sixth place in the Western Conference.

“This is a must-win, three-point game. We have to start picking up points at home and trying to distance ourselves 'cause it’s a tight race from the sixth place all the way to the second place, so we’ve got to get points against a team that’s struggling at the moment,” said Cassar.

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