Things are playing out exactly as Jeff Cassar had hoped.
After bowing out of the U.S. Open Cup at lower-division Atlanta two weeks ago, which was preceeded by a four-game MLS winless streak, Real Salt Lake’s coach knew his players needed some time away.
He was originally going to give them Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off last week, but later stretched it to five days. Cassar sensed his players needed a mental break as much as a physical break to recharge for the second half of the season.
Based on training this week, the break was exactly what RSL needed.
“Arguably this has been one of the best weeks of training we’ve had. I’d expect nothing less than an RSL performance at Chivas,” said Cassar.
Winless in its last five games in all competitions dating back to May 17, Real Salt Lake is hoping a trip to West bottom-feeder Chivas USA this Saturday (8:30 p.m. MDT, Ch. 4) helps get things back on track.
To make it happen, Cassar has geared training this week toward improving his players’ reactions to in-game situations.
“Positive reactions to whether it’s being in the offense, thinking I‘m going to get that ball, the ball’s going to end up at my foot, this player is going to make a mistake and I’m going to capitalize. Or defensively, just making sure it’s a quick reaction to win it back,” said Cassar.
With the right mentality, Saturday is a very winnable game despite RSL’s recent struggles. Chivas has only won twice all season, and just once since a season-opening triumph on March 9. It’s bleeding goals on the defensive side, and is the second-lowest scoring team in MLS at the other end of the field.
Ironically enough, those struggles are what make Chivas USA a dangerous opponent this weekend, according to RSL defender Nat Borchers.
“A road game is always difficult in this league, especially against a team that’s struggling. Definitely those teams are as hungry if not hungrier than the teams that are winning,” said Borchers.
RSL has been solid away from Rio Tinto Stadium this season with a 3-1-4 record. It tied Columbus in its most recent road outing, but could’ve easily picked up the full three points had it not conceded another late equalizer.
That late goal against the Crew and a mistake-filled game against Portland sent RSL into the World Cup break on a somber tone, but Borchers doesn’t believe it’s as bad as it seems.
“I think we were actually playing just fine. We were just making little mistakes that cost us points,” said Borchers, whose wife gave birth to their first child earlier this week. “It was good to get away. It always is. Now we’re a hungrier group and refocused for the second part of the season.”
Midfielder Javier Morales said there’s a renewed focus within the team and he said everyone is on the same page again.
Ned Grabavoy and Rich Balchan have been ruled out for the match, but Cassar said that everyone else is healthy and available heading into the match at the StubHub Center.
Depending on how the U.S. national team fares on Tuesday against Belgium in the Round of 16, Saturday’s match could be the last without Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando. Real Salt Lake is 1-2-2 since the U.S. duo and Costa Rican Alvaro Saborio left for the World Cup.
Despite another game without some of its most important players, Cassar is confident in getting a result at Chivas.
“They’re dangerous when they’re given time and space. But we feel we can get at them and be on top of them even at their place,” said Cassar.
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