SANDY — There's no way to sugarcoat it — it's gut-check time for Real Salt Lake.
At a time when the club expected to be making a late-season push toward the Supporters Shield, it's instead trending backward with four-straight one-goal losses, including last Saturday's stunner against FC Dallas.
Now, without a sniff of momentum, RSL faces a virtual must-win situation when it hosts Tauro FC of Panama in the second group game of CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
"It's really all or nothing right now with the Champions League. We've got to come out strong against the Panamanian team," said RSL center back Nat Borchers after Saturday's loss.
Advancing out of Champions League group play is one of Real Salt Lake's top priorities this season, and despite its recent slide in MLS play, it still has everything to play for in CCL.
Even though it lost at Costa Rican club Herediano in the first game of group play three weeks ago, RSL has three matches remaining to try and advance as the group winner. Anything less than three points against Tauro might make that impossible.
Following Saturday's loss to Dallas, coach Jason Kreis talked a lot about getting a quick mental turnaround.
"This could be a real emotional heartbreaker for us, but we can't let it be. We have got to stay together and we've got to continue forward and we got to continue to believe and Tuesday night, if we play this way then we'll get the result and then maybe roll from there," said Kreis.
While RSL heads for the home stretch of its 2012 season, Tauro's season in Panama is just getting started, but it's in fine form early on. Six games in, Tauro is 4-1-1 with just three goals conceded.
Real Salt Lake knows from experience that despite being the favorite, nothing comes easy in Champions League.
In a group game at Rio Tinto Stadium against Panamanian club Arabe Unido two years ago, the visitors flopped, stalled and resorted to ridiculous theatrics to try and escape Rio Tinto Stadium with a draw. It was minutes away from being successful before the ref basically said enough is enough when he rewarded RSL a penalty kick in stoppage time.
Arabe Unido scored an early goal in that game, and a similar slow start for the home team on Tuesday could be a disaster.
"We can't put our heads down; we have to keep going and continue to work hard. We're in a slump right now, but we need to stay positive and keep pushing," said Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
That's easier said than done right now as Real Salt Lake's record over the past 12 matches is a stunning 3-8-1.