SANDY — Tony Beltran can't help but look back and laugh about Real Salt Lake's defensive struggles earlier this season.
"It doesn't even feel like the same season it was so long ago, even though it's really not," said Beltran.
During a decisive six-game stretch from June 20 to July 14, nothing went right for RSL as it conceded 12 goals and posted a lackluster 1-4-1 record to permanently fall out of first place in the Western Conference.
That rough stretch is a distant memory considering RSL's current defensive form.
Heading into Thursday's playoff game against visiting Seattle, coach Jason Kreis' team has only surrendered three goals in all competitions during its past 13 matches. Including its scoreless draw with Herediano last month, RSL has posted four straight shutouts and hasn't allowed a goal in 433 straight minutes.
"Important thing is we're playing good defense at the right time. I'd rather get the shutouts now than in July," said Beltran.
It was easy to blame RSL's defensive woes on lineup inconsistency, as the club dealt with injuries to defenders Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler. Injuries have very much been an issue late in the season, too, but Beltran said everyone is fighting through the adversity to get the results.
"There's been a big rotation of players, so the credit goes out to not just four guys but six or seven," said Beltran. "Our shape has been very good, our communication, I just think we're working hard for each other, and not just our back four but everybody up the field. We're not allowing teams to get behind us a lot."
When there has been a defensive breakdown, Nick Rimando has been equal to the challenge, just as he was in Seattle in Game 1 with five tremendous saves.
Rimando has had a front-row seat for Real Salt Lake's defensive inconsistency all season. He attributes the defensive turnaround the past couple months to a mentality shift.
"Just the commitment, coaches reassuring us of how we got to this point and why, and it's our defense. From our forwards putting the work in, I could see a turn in (Fabian Espindola) in the last 10 games. He's really been putting the effort in defensively, (Alvaro Saborio) too. When our forwards are playing defense, our whole team is playing well," said Rimando.
Rimando said the increased play of Javier Morales and the organization of Kyle Beckerman have made a big difference as well.
Even though the goals have been tough to come by lately, and therefore the results, Kreis said Real Salt Lake is once again playing with the type of commitment and dedication that made it such a feared opponent earlier this season, and in past seasons.
"When we're committed and when we're dedicated to that, we typically do very well on the defensive side," said Kreis.
RSL on the air
Western Conference semifinals
Seattle Sounders at Real Salt Lake
Thursday, 8 p.m.
Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
TV: NBC Sports Network; Radio: 700 AM
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