This is a group that hates losing. And if anything (last week) made us hungrier, made us stronger and made us realize how important the next games are. I think it more or less pissed us off than brought us down. —Jeff Cassar
The soccer just wasn’t good enough. That was the consensus at Real Salt Lake practice this week as the players reflected on last week’s loss to FC Dallas. Sure it was hot and humid in Frisco, Texas, but the players said it was no excuse for the poor overall performance.
The loss snapped a six-game unbeaten streak for RSL, which suddenly finds itself in fourth place in the Western Conference just two weeks removed from occupying the top spot.
Coach Jeff Cassar is excited to see how the team responds to the rare loss this Saturday as Real Salt Lake makes its final visit to Buck Shaw Stadium to face the struggling San Jose Earthquakes (Ch. 30, 8:30 p.m.).
“This is a group that hates losing. And if anything (last week) made us hungrier, made us stronger and made us realize how important the next games are. I think it more or less pissed us off than brought us down,” said Cassar.
As things tighten at the top of the MLS table thanks in large part to surging Los Angeles, points are at an absolute premium during the final nine games — specifically points in bunches of three.
“Things are going to shake out pretty soon. We only have two months left,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers, who envisions the Supporters’ Shield being wrapped up by somebody with a game or two remaining.
As for playoff seeding, Borchers expects that to be up in the air until the final weekend.
Saturday’s game could go a long way in determining where Real Salt Lakes falls in that playoff picture — and it’s a game it should realistically win.
San Jose sits in eighth place in the Western Conference with 25 points, and only has two wins since Memorial Day. It's 0-2-2 in its last four, which includes a 5-0 loss to Dallas and a 4-2 loss to Philadelphia.
Ned Grabavoy believes the lopsided losses and San Jose’s position in the table make it a difficult team to prepare for.
“You never really know because I’m sure they’re going to make a lot of changes to that group. They’re probably looking at players probably more so for next year, and picking up options. When guys are fighting for jobs, it’s still a dangerous and difficult opponent,” he said.
If Real Salt Lake can secure three points on Saturday, winning the Supporters’ Shield is very realistic. Six of its final nine games are against teams on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture looking in.
Winning away from Rio Tinto Stadium, however, hasn’t been easy lately with a 1-4-1 record since an emphatic 5-2 win at Houston.
Cassar stressed that Real Salt Lake can’t take anything for granted against a team with goal poacher Chris Wondolowski.
“Anytime you have Wondolowski on the field they can get goals any time. Obviously it’s a team that’s not playing with a ton of confidence, but we don’t want to give them any. So when the ball’s turned over, winning it back right away. Putting pressure on them, not letting them get in any type of rhythm,” said Cassar.