SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake is certainly playing its best soccer of the year, and with hopes of chasing down the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference standings, they have further motivation as they cruise down the final stretch into the playoffs.
"Everybody has been working extremely hard and everybody has stuck to the plan," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said about his team's current five-game winning streak, the longest in the league this season.
Their latest victory came in the form of a 3-1 domination at the New York Red Bulls, where RSL scored all of its goals in the first 21 minutes.
Entering today's game at DC United, RSL (now tied for second place in the Western Conference with Seattle) has its sights set on the Galaxy and the Supporters' Shield, given to the team with the league's best overall record — and with it a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. RSL currently sits at 15-7-6, good for 51 points, while L..A. is at 16-3-10 and 58 points.
"We still feel like the Supporters' Shield is a possibility, and we're going to go for it, and that's obviously going to keep players motivated, and that's on top of the intrinsic motivation you get at the end of every season with the playoffs around the corner," Kreis said.
The differences, Kreis said, between the team's sharp play now as compared to a month ago when the team lost four of five matches are small but imperative.
"I think it's such small details. I said at the time that I thought we were actually playing some pretty good soccer, and were very, very close to getting all those results," he said. "So when we began to really get focused on those very, very small details and plays, whether it was focus or that extra yard of commitment, that's when the results start coming."
RSL's opponent, on the other hand, is fighting just to qualify for the playoffs. At 8-8-11 and 35 points, DC United is four points out of an Eastern Conference automatic berth and two points from a wild-card position.
DC United is fighting its own demons at home. They are just 3-3-7 on its own field and tied for the second-least home points in the league with 16.
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman will return to the pitch after serving a one-game suspension due to too many yellow cards. Chris Wingert is still questionable with his broken wrist, as is Javier Morales.
About Morales, who has been out since May with a broken ankle, Kreis said, "It's still a conversation that has to happen between me and Javier. We got through the training session (Friday), which wasn't ideal with the weather. In thinking a little bit more about it, we do need to consider the weather tomorrow night as well. So there's a lot of factors to consider, and no decision has been made yet."