SANDY — Real Salt Lake’s dramatic draw in Portland last month, along with scoring outbursts at home against Columbus and Portland, were impressive results you’d expect from one of the best teams in MLS.
The bookends of those three results, however, were significant red flags.
Back on Aug. 17, Real Salt Lake was humbled in a 4-2 loss at Los Angeles, and then last week it turned in another disappointing performance with a 2-0 loss at Seattle — a setback that knocked RSL off the Supporters’ Shield perch.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy admits there were similarities in both losses.
“We can’t make mistakes against quality opponents, especially with quality guys who can finish, and those two teams definitely have those players. They punish you when everyone’s not focused and committed, and defensively not organized and together,” said Grabavoy.
That attention to detail defensively will again be of utmost importance this Saturday against visiting San Jose at 7 p.m.
Even though the Earthquakes are a long shot to make the playoffs, Chris Wondolowski is still one of the elite strikers in MLS, and if RSL makes defensive mistakes like it did against Los Angeles and Seattle, he’ll gladly capitalize.
Reflecting on the Seattle loss last weekend, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said it was a bizarre performance.
“There are a lot of things to weren’t regular for us,” he said. “It was a one-off game for us, and that’s OK to have those games sometimes, but you can’t have two in a row. You’ve got to be able to turn the page and move forward, but at the same time look at what happened wrong and why we lost.”
Conceding a goal in the third minute in Seattle was the biggest shortcoming, something RSL can’t afford to do against an improved San Jose team.
Even though the Earthquakes are five points out of a playoff spot, they’ve posted a 5-2-2 record over the past two months to climb from obscurity into contention.
“These teams a lot of times in MLS that struggle early in the season make changes and sign good players in important spots for their team, and they did that,” said Grabavoy. “You look at the Clarence Goodson signing, for me one of the best signings of the year.”
San Jose has certainly benefitted the past few months by the signing of the U.S. national team center back.
A year after getting swept in all three matches against San Jose, Real Salt Lake looks to complete a trifecta of its own. It opened the season with a 2-0 win at San Jose on March 3, and then toppled the Earthquakes again in June, 3-0.
It will have to complete the sweep without the services of striker Alvaro Saborio, who has been ruled out of his second-straight match with a calf strain. The club certainly missed Saborio’s presence in Seattle as it suffered its first shutout since April 27.
If RSL hopes to keep its Supporters’ Shield hopes alive in the final month, it will need others to step in front of a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.
“When you have teams on the bottom, they’re fighting for every point. They were Supporters’ Shield winners last year, great striker on their team and guys that fight. There’s no doubt in my mind Saturday’s going to be a fighting match and a soccer game at the same time,” said Rimando.
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