By the time the 27th minute rolled around Saturday in their game against the Kansas City Wizards, Real Salt Lake hit one of those low points in the season.
The Wizards took a 3-1 lead on a goal by rookie Scott Sealy. But it was 42-year-old midfielder Preki that really set up the goal. Real's Kenny Cutler, Michael Lookingland and finally Brian Dunseth all failed to tackle the ball away before Preki tapped it ahead to Sealy, who had a clear path to the goal and past goalkeeper D.J. Countess.
"That third goal was the crowning moment of the two and a half games leading up to that point," Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger said. "I couldn't even call that a soft goal. It was below soft. It's just a mental thing. When you let them run through the middle, you don't tackle them and don't bring them down, you don't stop their flow."
But Real nearly found a way back and stole a point. Jordan Cila headed in Luke Kreamalmeyer's cross in the 44th minute to cut Kansas City's lead to one goal by halftime.
"We lost our way, we got it back in the second half and now we have to keep going for that," Ellinger said.
With defenders Eddie Pope (on national team duty) and Rusty Pierce (injured) out of the lineup, Real Salt Lake has given up 14 goals in the last three games -- two league games and an U.S. Open Cup loss Wednesday.
"We just have to get our character and confidence back," defender Brian Dunseth said. "We've had to make some adjustments, pulling Brian Kamler to the back from midfield. It's been like a patchwork defense for the most part. That being said, it's still not good enough from our end."
With a back line that includes Pierce, Pope and Dunseth on the field at the same time, Real Salt Lake has won three of four games. Still, Real Salt Lake had some chances to score in the final 20 minutes against Kansas City and take a point.
"I actually thought we got more of the game as the game went on at the end," Ellinger said. "We got through the first half. It's never pleasant to play in high humidity and heat. I thought as the game went on the young legs we had on the field kept us in it."
The Wizards also used some young legs. By the end of the game Kansas City had four rookies on the field. But when players are missing, others must step in and play at a high level. Real Salt Lake was also missing Andy Williams, on national team duty with Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
"Once we get Eddie and Andy back, we have a different record with them on the field than with them off the field," Dunseth said. "It's been hard but at the same time we're professionals. There is a huge chunk of us who have been playing in this league for a while. It's time for no more excuses and we just have to start playing."
On the other side of the matter, Real Salt Lake has scored seven goals in their last three games in all competitions, a better showing that the five consecutive games in which they were shutout.
"We have to straighten out our mentality," Dunseth said. "Early in the season, we were tight when we weren't scoring goals. And now that we are scoring goals, we are soft defensively."
There is plenty of good talent for Real Salt Lake to get better results, Kamler said. Although they have come together from many different teams into an expansion team, developing a good team mentality is not a big issue.
"It is an issue but not as big of an issue as people think," Dunseth said. "At the end of the day all of us players have been in this league except Kreamalmeyer, (Jamie) Watson and (Michael) Lookingland. We have a enough professionalism and solid veteran leadership to where it shouldn't be an issue."
Robert Whitman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.