SANDY, Utah - Playing its third match in eight days, it might be understandable if Real Salt Lake rested a bit on its MLS-leading laurels and took it easy against Columbus.
Try the exact opposite.
With a 4-0 trouncing of the Crew, RSL showed exactly why they are so dangerous heading into the home stretch of the MLS regular season, bouncing back after accruing only one point on a two-match road trip.
“For me, this was the most complete match we played for the entire season,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. “And it comes at the right time. We’re entering the most critical stretch here.”
The complete effort resulted in the complete domination of the listless Crew. Salt Lake outshot Columbus 17-4 on the night and maintained a 65-35 percent edge in possession. RSL’s four goals gave them 48 on the season – breaking the team record of 47 set last year.
A key factor in limiting the effects of the quick turnaround was Kreis being able to turn to his team’s vaunted depth. While the defense was mostly the same group that played in Portland on Wednesday, Kreis revamped the attack.
“To be in a situation where you can make five or six changes to our starting lineup, you get a number of fresh players on the field,” Kreis said.
One of those changes was getting captain Kyle Beckerman back from a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation. Beckerman made up for his absence with two goals, doubling his total on the season to four.
“We wanted to reward ourselves for the effort the guys put out [against Portland,]” Beckerman said. “I think we can get even better than we were tonight, keep our head down and get ready to the playoffs.”
In addition to the captain’s return, RSL took comfort in the knowledge that as the postseason creeps closer, goals can come from whatever lineup suits Kreis’ fancy on any given night. With regulars Robbie Findley and Joao Plata on the bench after putting in full efforts against Portland and Alvaro Saborio injured, Kreis turned to rookie forwards Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia.
The duo rewarded their coach’s faith by pushing into Columbus’ box all game and getting onto the scoresheet with Sandoval notching his second goal of the season.
“I’ve never been even close to coaching a team having five forwards I really believe in,” Kreis said. “I’m extremely happy with them.”
Real Salt Lake returns to the pitch on Friday when Portland comes to Rio Tinto Stadium.