Chris Wingert believes Real Salt Lake's make-or-break stretch of the 2008 season begins tonight.
With six of its next eight games at home, including this evening's visit by the San Jose Earthquakes, if RSL expects to climb back into the Western Conference pack it must make a move now during this favorable stretch.
"Pretty much that's probably going to be it," Wingert said. "We'll either know if we're in the hunt or not. It's pretty much the season for the most part."
The situation might not be so dire if Real Salt Lake wasn't so anemic on the road. Following a lengthy homestand that ends on July 12, seven of the next 10 matches are on the road, where RSL is 0-5 this season. It's obvious why winning at Rice-Eccles Stadium is of supreme importance.
"We've got to turn it on and start getting wins. Ties will be unacceptable at this point," said Wingert.
Tonight's match against San Jose kicks off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel.
The visitors to Salt Lake City between now and mid-July are San Jose (twice), Kansas City, New England, Houston and Columbus. RSL's only two away games are June 14 at Chivas USA and June 28 at Kansas City.
"It's absolutely critical that we get good results at home now, and it starts (tonight)," said RSL defender Nat Borchers, who's started and played 90 minutes in every match this year.
Borchers is one of four RSL players to start every match, including Wingert, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando. Four other players, Robbie Findley, Kenny Deuchar, Dema Kovalenko and Andy Williams, have made an
appearance in all nine matches this year.
Earlier in the season several RSL players hinted that unfamiliarity was contributing to the team's struggles. A third of the way into the season, though, it probably shouldn't be a factor any longer with the same core players continually on the field most of the time.
Wingert reiterated that it's all about playing until the final whistle.
"We've played good for stretches so we know we're capable, so in that sense I think the guys are confident," said Wingert. "We just need to put it together for 90 minutes."
This is actually San Jose's second visit to Salt Lake City this year. Back on April 30 these teams played at Rice-Eccles Stadium in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier, and RSL rolled to a 4-0 win. That match didn't count in the league standings though, and Real coach Jason Kreis isn't reading anything into it. He said as many as eight different players will be on the field for San Jose this time around.
Expansion San Jose (2-5-1) sits at the bottom of Major League Soccer with just seven points, even though Salt Lake (2-5-2) isn't much better with only eight points. The loser of tonight's match will occupy sole possession of the worst record in MLS.A win for either team would boost them closer to the Western Conference pack, and for RSL it could also get the ball rolling on what needs to be a successful next two months.