RSL backline healthy, poised to renew defensive dominance
SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake are gearing up to get back to businees in MLS with a stretch of three games over eight days beginning Saturday at Chivas USA (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Although RSL sit atop the Western Conference standings (9-3-2, 29 points), they know they have room to improve, especially when it comes to their normally reliable defense. In 14 league games, they have surrendered 14 goals, which is not a terrible number, but also not where they want to be.
"I don't pay much attention to the stats, but I feel like for a stretch there, even when we were winning games, we were giving up too many chances," said left back Chris Wingert (above). "I think it's multiple things, and stuff that we talk about every week. We just try to take care of details and get a little bit better."
Perhaps one reason for the less-than-desired results for RSL on the scoresheet has been a lack of consistency on the backline. Instances when Wingert, Nat Borchers, MLS First XI defender Jámison Olave and right back Tony Beltran have all been on the pitch and 100 percent healthy have been few and far between. But coming off an 18-day layoff, all four are training at full strength, which bodes well for the club.
"It's important to get the band back together, for sure," said Borchers. "It's actually been good for us to have this break, get our bodies healthy, getting our backs healthy. I think we need to renew that partnership back there these next three games, and make sure we keep things tight. We have given up goals and points during games we usually don't give up goals — toward the end of halves or beginnings of games. ... It is still a major focus for us, and I think it is always good to have something to work on."
With the defense's fifth man, Chris Schuler, getting closer to returning from a stress-fracture in his foot, RSL appear poised to go on a long streak without allowing many scoring opportunities.
"This group has been together long enough that we know what they are capable of," said head coach Jason Kreis. "Now, we need them back together, playing extended minutes together to get that understanding back together to go forward. If you look at just our last match against Dallas, we won the game, which we can feel good about, but we also allowed two goals at home, which we should not feel good about."
Borchers summed up a seemingly simple solution to their defensive lapses.
"We need to get back to playing Real Salt Lake soccer," the veteran said.