At a time when Real Salt Lake should be building momentum for the stretch run, it finds itself trending backward because of a two-game losing streak.
The timing couldn’t be worse.
RSL travels to Vancouver this Saturday in an absolute must-win match to keep its Supporters’ Shield hopes alive, but there’s a good chance coach Jason Kreis won’t be putting his best foot forward.
Next Tuesday Real Salt Lake hosts MLS bottom feeder D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final, and based on the developments over the past couple weeks, RSL clearly has a better chance of winning the Open Cup than the Supporters’ Shield.
With that in mind, don’t be surprised to see Kreis rest some starters for Saturday’s 5 p.m. MDT kickoff in Vancouver and put the club’s depth to the test.
RSL defender Chris Wingert said he’s confident in getting a result either way.
“Up until this point we’ve had a good season because of that depth, so hopefully it will carry us through. We need to trust it, and that’s part of having a 10-month season and playing a lot of big matches,” said Wingert.
Over the past two weeks, that depth has been tested without the services of banged-up striker Alvaro Saborio, and goals were tough to come by in a 2-0 loss to Seattle and a 2-1 loss to San Jose. Saborio trained with the team in the rain Friday, but his status for the weekend is unknown.
Regardless of who plays, RSL defender Nat Borchers said Saturday is all about rediscovering the swagger that had all of MLS talking about Real Salt Lake not long ago.
“I think we really just want to play well right now — that’s the most important thing — defensively and offensively. Get our rhythm back offensively and defensively not concede goals,” said Borchers.
Kreis put his players through a tough week of training to prepare for the four-day stretch that may ultimately define the season.
With a result in Vancouver, it’s hard to imagine RSL not continuing the momentum Tuesday and capturing its first trophy since 2009. With a third-straight loss, struggling RSL would only be four points clear of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and confidence could be a legitimate concern heading into the Open Cup final.
“We need some urgency here. It’s coming right down to the last few weeks and we haven’t made the playoffs yet and we have a championship game on Tuesday. Everybody realizes the stakes. We just have to make sure we execute,” said Wingert.
RSL is 1-0-1 against Vancouver this season, winning at home and drawing on the road, but the clubs haven’t met since May 4.
Vancouver is coming off a 3-0 trouncing at Montreal, and will no doubt be anxious to play in front of its home fans for the first time in four weeks in a must-win match. The Whitecaps trail Colorado and Los Angeles by four points for the final playoff spot.
“They’re a lot like San Jose in terms of being a very hungry team. They’re fighting for a spot in the playoffs. Their backs are against the wall, and conversely our backs are against the wall as well. We need to have a good performance,” said Borchers.
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