LEHI, Utah – They're getting better, but they're not there just yet.
That's the message out of Real Salt Lake camp as the MLS Cup playoffs get set to kick off. Jason Kreis' men are riding a six-game winless streak into the postseason, but the team believe their improvement over the past two matches — a 0-0 draw at Colorado and a 1-1 draw against Portland last weekend — are encouraging signs.
“Having gone back and watched that Portland game again, they were really doing nothing to us,” Kreis said at training on Tuesday. “The [equalizing] goal came completely out of the blue for me. We were controlling the rhythm of the match. We were controlling the tempo. We were making a lot of smart decisions with how to finish that match, and then out of nowhere, 15 seconds of lack of focus and lack of commitment and the ball’s in the back of our net."
The Portland result in particular was typical of Real Salt Lake's season. The home side put in a routinely dominant performance at Rio Tinto Stadium, but gave up the equalizer in second-half stoppage time, finishing the match — and the regular season — with a 1-1 draw.
RSL concluded the 2011 season with the third-best record in MLS, but did so with .21 fewer goals scored per game and 16 more goals conceded than in 2010. Their goal differential was even more telling: They went from a league-best +25 in 2010 to just +8 in 2011.
With the Seattle Sounders - the league's highest-scoring team - heading to town on Saturday for the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals (10 pm ET, FOX Soccer/TSN2), now’s the time to tighten up for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
“I don’t think we’ve played a good [full game] of soccer in quite a while,” defender Nat Borchers said Tuesday. “I think we put together about 93 minutes against Portland and then we obviously gave that goal at the end. So I think really getting a full game in, being switched on and focused throughout is really crucial. In the playoffs, one goal can hurt you, so we’re going to have to be prepared for anything that can happen.”
Helping RSL's cause is the return of the Kyle Beckerman-Javier Morales tandem in central midfield. But for Kreis, the recipe for success is simple: total focus by everyone across the pitch for a full 90 minutes.
"I think that we’ve got to get better by 15 seconds right now," he said. "That’s my honest opinion.”