They’re organized a little bit more and they’ve got good players in the offseason, so now it’s going to be different. They’re playing good. —RSL midfielder Javier Morales, on D.C. United
SANDY — Last week’s gutty 10-man victory at Colorado is the type of confidence-building result that could springboard Real Salt Lake back into the MLS Supporters’ Shield conversation.
That’s assuming the club backs it up with another result.
Building on that momentum won’t be the only motivation for RSL this weekend when D.C. United rolls into town. This is the first meeting between the teams since D.C. United stunned Real Salt Lake last October in the U.S. Open Cup final.
“I think I’d be foolish to say it’s not on their minds. It’s not something that’s a massive talking point, but it didn’t sit well with all the guys that are here. We lost a cup final on our home field,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
D.C. United had won three league games all season prior to that U.S. Open Cup shocker, and the momentum hasn’t ceased since. With allocation money from winning that competition and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, D.C. rebuilt its roster in the offseason and currently sits in second place in the Eastern Conference with 38 points.
Real Salt Lake occupies the second spot in the West with 37 points, which makes Saturday’s clash (7 p.m. MDT, Ch. 30) potentially important if they meet in MLS Cup this December.
That’s a long way off, however, and RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said the most important thing this weekend is building on last week’s result.
“It’s difficult to explain those things, emotion and momentum, but certainly you look at that game last week and that’s probably the least amount of soccer we’ve played (this year), and we win the game with three points. We’ve had plenty of games this stretch where we’ve played really good and come away with nothing or one point,” said Grabavoy.
Maintaining the momentum this weekend will be tricky.
Even though Cassar said Kyle Beckerman should be available this weekend despite skipping the MLS All-Star game on Wednesday, RSL will be without both of its outside backs. Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran are both suspended because of yellow card accumulation, which creates an interesting lineup dilemma with only one healthy outside back on the roster.
Abdoullie Mansally will get the nod at left back, but right back is very much up in the air. Chris Schuler, Carlos Salcedo and John Stertzer are all makeshift options, as is recent RSL Academy signing Justen Glad.
Against an improved D.C. United attack led by Eddie Johnson, it’s certainly not an easy challenge whoever gets the nod.
“They’re organized a little bit more and they’ve got good players in the offseason, so now it’s going to be different. They’re playing good,” said RSL midfielder Javier Morales.
D.C. United posted an impressive 4-0 record in July, but kicked off August with a 1-0 loss at Houston. It will also be short-handed on Saturday as defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen is suspended while Nick DeLeon and Luis Silva are questionable.
Fabian Espindola hasn’t made an appearance in two months for D.C. United, but reports this week indicate he’ll be on the 18-man gameday roster in his first return trip to Rio Tinto Stadium.
Despite D.C. United’s improved play this season, Cassar said he really likes how his team matches up.
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.