SANDY — A week after missing out on an opportunity to move into first place, Real Salt Lake suddenly needs to be mindful of the teams lurking behind in the MLS standings. Seattle is only five points behind with two games in hand, while the Vancouver Whitecaps are eight points back with one game in hand.
The Caps host RSL on Saturday at 5 p.m. (MDT), then host Dallas in a mid-week clash next Wednesday. If Real Salt Lake doesn't snap out of its recent road rut, and Vancouver takes care of business at home over the next five days, RSL's once-cozy cushion in second place will vanish.
"It's another big, big game. We've had so many, and we have so many more in front of us," Jason Kreis, head coach of RSL, said. "I don't want to be so ultra-focused on the result. I still want to be focused on improving our performance."
Lately, that performance hasn't been good away from Rio Tinto Stadium. Earlier this summer, Real Salt Lake featured one of the best road records in MLS at 4-4-2, but it has since dropped three straight away games by a combined score of 8-0.
Snapping out of it in Canada won't be easy. Not only is Vancouver one of the best home teams in MLS at 6-1-4, it hasn't played a match since a 2-1 loss at RSL two weeks ago. The Whitecaps will be well-rested and anxious to avenge that result.
"Sometimes with young teams, I find with those teams the energy seems to be a bit higher," Ned Grabavoy said. "Sometimes those younger teams can be a bit more dangerous, and when they play at home they're going to bring all the energy they have, so we're aware of that. We know how dangerous they are without question."
Vancouver is a team that values possession like Real Salt Lake, and it won't be content to sit back and counterattack.
"We got to be focused. We got to be very sharp, high energy level 'cause we know they're a good team. They've got a lot of good players and they're right on our tail," Will Johnson said.
According to Kreis, it's all about cutting out the little mistakes. In last week's 1-0 loss at Colorado, Kreis said the Rapids' lone goal came down to being unorganized on a throw-in. In fact, looking back on that game Kreis said the majority of Colorado's chances came off dead-ball situations and throw-ins.
"We just have to continue to harp on that and try to improve. That little bit of extra focus and that little bit of extra commitment is all we're lacking," Kreis said.
Alvaro Saborio scored twice in the 2-1 victory over Vancouver back on July 27, and he should be well-rested for his showdown with Vancouver all-star center back Jay DeMerit after only playing 45 minutes against Colorado last weekend.
In RSL's only previous match at BC Place in Vancouver last October, it was thoroughly outplayed in a 3-0 loss.
Despite its recent road struggles, Johnson is optimistic a light week of training this week will have Real Salt Lake ready for what should be a great atmosphere in Vancouver.
"There's not many environments that intimidate this team, it's more about us and making sure that mentally and physically that we're focused and prepared," Johnson said.