SANDY — It's been tough for Real Salt Lake to generate much momentum this month with the cancellation at Vancouver and the U.S. Open Cup loss at Dallas, yet despite all that RSL heads into tonight's game as the hottest team in MLS.
RSL has won two straight by a combined 6-0 score and is unbeaten in seven straight league games. It's not a coincidence either as coach Jason Kreis believes his team has been progressively getting better the past month and a half.
"I think we've been an improving team now for a lot of weeks, and I still feel like there's room to go and I think all the guys feel that way as well," said Kreis. "If we can just focus on being a little better every week that should put us in a good place."
Real Salt Lake hasn't put a complete 90-minute game together in several months, but that's the objective when it hosts East-leading Columbus at Rio Tinto Stadium at 7 p.m. Defender Nat Borchers said that's the next step toward rediscovering the confident swagger from earlier this year.
RSL has kind of been the forgotten contender in MLS the past three months, but a victory over Columbus could serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the league.
Borchers would prefer to stay anonymous though.
"I think we prefer not to be talked about as much as we were when we were playing Champions League and when we were considered contenders last year. We'd rather fly under the radar and surprise teams at the end of the year," he said.
Tonight's game ends a favorable stretch for RSL, with five of its last six games at Rio Tinto Stadium. Things will get much tougher in August, with four of five on the road, a big reason why three points is so valuable against the Crew.
Columbus will be a surprisingly good challenge. Not much was expected of the Crew this year after a major roster overhaul, yet there they are in a first-place tie with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference with 31 points. Among the eight victories was a 2-1 triumph over Real Salt Lake at Crew Stadium in early June.
"They're one of the elite teams in the league. They've been that way for a few years now, so it's always a huge challenge for us to play against them," said Borchers.
This will be the fourth meeting between the teams this year. Back in late February and early March RSL and Columbus played a home-and-home series in the quarterfinal round of the Champions League, with RSL advancing on aggregate 4-1. RSL also eliminated Columbus from the 2009 playoffs in a similar home-and-home series.
"It's developed into a nice healthy rivalry," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Despite its improved form, Real Salt Lake still sits in fourth place in the Western Conference. It's a deceiving reality as it has played four fewer games than all three teams — Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle — it's chasing.
JAMISON OLAVE OUT
RSL defender Jamison Olave will be out two to four weeks after spraining his left knee in the MLS All-Star Game onTuesday.