SANDY, Utah – Last year, Real Salt Lake was the best defensive team that MLS had ever seen, setting a new record for fewest goals allowed during an MLS regular season (20). This year, it's been a different story.
That said, the circumstances behind the 35 goals RSL have conceded in 2011 do allow for some hope as the club wraps up the regular season with an eye toward a deep run into the MLS Cup playoffs.
One trend to keep in mind is that many of the goals have come in bunches in just a handful of games. A season ago, Real Salt Lake allowed two goals in just five games and never gave up three or more goals in all of 2010. This year, they’ve allowed 10 multi-goal games and have given up three or more goals on five different occasions.
“The last three years we’ve been such a good group defensively, so I think it’s something we have to work on,” defender Nat Borchers said this week. “It’s a work in progress. We’ve got to figure it out, and get better defensively because that’s our bread and butter on this club.”
The majority of those 35 goals came in two separate losing streaks in which Real Salt Lake lost four games straight. The combined total of goals conceded in those eight matches: 20, the same number of scores they conceded all of last season.
“The most difficult thing about losing games is how it affects you mentally, in my opinion,” head coach Jason Kreis of the team’s current’ four-game losing stretch. “And it’s difficult. There’s no reason to shy away from that. We’re in a difficult position, but the good news is that with one positive result you tend to forget about those losses and just move forward.”
What can serve as some consolation to Borchers & Co. is that several of those multi-goal games have come in one of seven matches in which an RSL have gone down a man after a player has received a red card.
“I’m going to be a little more critical and a little more analytical,” said Kreis, “to look for what we could have done better to not put ourselves in those positions to get those ejections.”
Pointed out goalkeeper Nick Rimando, “When you get red cards, you’re down a man and goals are going to happen. And that’s just soccer. We don’t want to lose 3-0 or 4-0, but a loss is a loss. It means the same thing.”
While red cards and penalty kicks have been part of the story, the manager feels like the odds are that RSL should have better luck with those factors come playoff time.
But the focus in the two matches remaining in the regular season will be to interrupt the stretch of four straight losses, which he feels is weighing on his squad. It starts with Friday’s match against the Colorado Rapids (10:30 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes), as RSL attempt to secure their fifth straight Rocky Mountain Cup triumph.
“I think if you’re going to bet on anybody to pull through this difficult stretch,” Kreis added, “I’d bet on my team.”