HERRIMAN — Real Salt Lake appears to have righted its ship after some early struggles, and it’s no secret what the catalyst has been: defense.
The club hasn’t given up a goal in the run of play in 252 straight minutes, since Seattle’s 18th minute tally in a 1-0 loss in the Emerald City back on April 6. Only a set piece goal by Orlando in the 81st minute has kept RSL from back-to-back clean sheets.
It’s the type of defensive effort that coach Mike Petke spent the preseason trying to cultivate, but one that’s hit a few speed bumps early this season because of red cards.
It’s no secret though that when RSL has kept 11 men on the field it’s been pretty good defensively.
“The games we have stayed with 11, we had some tough games on the road we have been there until the last minute every game,” said midfielder Albert Rusnak. “Even in the games we have lost we played much better than last year.”
A similar defensive effort will be necessary this Sunday (6 p.m., KMYU) if Real Salt Lake wants to build on its modest two-game winning streak.
The LA Galaxy sit in second place in the Western Conference — 9 points ahead of seventh-place RSL — and has won all five of its home games at Dignity Health Sports Park this season. This Sunday will be the 39th regular season meeting between the two teams, with the Galaxy leading the all-time series 15-14-9.
It’s a venue that RSL has historically played well in, even though last year the Galaxy prevailed 3-0 in Southern California.
Defender Justen Glad, who’s started the past two games after missing the first month and a half with a broken toe, said RSL is a good position to try and build on the momentum from last week’s 3-0 win at FC Cincinnati.
“It’s a mentality from everyone out there on the field. It comes from the top from Sam (Johnson) and Albert (Rusnak) putting pressure on at the beginning, and that makes our job a lot easier at the back because it makes play a little more predictable and we have time to react. It’s a full team effort, and it is a testament to what we worked on in the preseason,” Glad said.
New striker Sam Johnson has scored in back-to-back games after a preseason injury slowed his contributions early. A striker who can regularly find the back of the net is something that’s been lacking since Alvaro Saborio’s departure in 2015, but Johnson has shown early signs of being that type consistent goal scorer.
“Whenever your No. 9 is scoring, it’s a good sign for the team. He’s got two goals now, so it will be important for him and just important for the team that he keeps scoring,” Rusnak said.
At the other end of the field, the Galaxy have one of the best strikers in MLS in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He scored twice against RSL in the first meeting last year but was shutout in the second meeting.
Prior experience against Ibrahimovic should help RSL hope for success.Comment on this story
“All we can do is continue to feed them information through video, through training sessions, about A, what his tendencies are, and B, how we need to defend against him. Gives us a better opportunity to be successful, but doesn’t guarantee anything though,” said Petke.
The Galaxy’s resurgence after missing the playoffs last year is thanks in large part to first-year coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Petke said they move the ball a lot better this season and are more intelligent with their defending and the way they press.