SANDY — Just like he always does, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis talked X's and O's with his players after Friday’s training session about what would be necessary to secure the full three points against Columbus. He also had a stern challenge for them: Be consistent.
In-game consistency is arguably the last thing holding Real Salt Lake back this season, and Kreis challenged his players to prove they were capable of playing a 90-minute game without ghastly defensive lapses.
They answered his challenge.
Against an inferior Columbus team whose playoff hopes were bleak at best, RSL played what Kreis said was the club’s most complete game of the season on its way to an emphatic 4-0 victory in front of 18,398 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think this for me was the most complete match we’ve played for the entire season, and I think it’s fantastic that it comes a day after I challenge the group to see if we could get there,” said Kreis.
The result capped a whirlwind week for Real Salt Lake that began with a 4-2 trouncing at Los Angeles last Saturday, followed by a gutty draw in Portland on Wednesday. Saturday’s dismantling of Columbus also helped the club move three points closer to winning the MLS Supporters' Shield.
Kreis knows RSL needs to be better defensively to ultimately finish with the best record in MLS, and he hopes that mentality starts now.
“From start to finish we were good both sides of the ball. I thought we were really active in the midfield. We created a lot of space. Defensively the goal tonight was to keep the ball away from (Federico) Higuain and I thought we did a pretty good job of that,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
As good as Real Salt Lake was, it took some dumb luck and arguably the easiest goal of Kyle Beckerman’s career to get the party started.
As Javier Morales tried to whip a 25-yard free kick on goal in first-half stoppage time, the ball ricocheted off Columbus defender Wil Trapp and fell immediately to Beckerman — who didn’t have time to flinch before the ball redirected off the top of his foot and into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
“Before I knew what was going on, it was in the goal,” said Beckerman.
Set pieces have been a thorn for RSL lately, and Borchers said it was finally nice to catch a break.
Spurred on by Beckerman’s momentum-swinging goal just before halftime, RSL didn’t waste any time burying the Crew in the second half. Devon Sandoval doubled RSL's advantage in the 51st minute, and then Luis Gil and Beckerman tacked on two more goals in the final 10 minutes to seal the club’s most lopsided victory of the season.
“It comes at the right time, 'cause we’re entering the most critical stretch here. We have a lot to play for and a lot to win in front of us, so we needed a performance to really put some confidence behind the group and I think that’s exactly what we got,” said Kreis.
Coming off Wednesday’s dramatic draw in Portland, a visit from the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference seemed like a potential trap game, but it never materialized.
It was also a record-breaking night of sorts for Real Salt Lake, which set a new club record with its 48th goal of the season, surpassing the 46 goals scored in 2012. With seven games remaining it could shatter that record.
“I feel like we’re getting a lot of people in the box and moving the ball a lot more. Guys are unselfish,” said Gil.
The win keeps Real Salt Lake four points clear of Montreal and five points clear of Los Angeles in the Supporters' Shield race, with both teams also winning Saturday.
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