After going unbeaten (6-0-6) through their first dozen MLS matches, Real Salt Lake lost two of their last three before the World Cup break and went winless (0-2-2) in their last four.
Going from bad to worse, RSL suffered an embarrassing 2-1 loss to the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks in their first US Open Cup game, extending their winless streak to five games in all competitions; they have not won since May 17.
“We had a pretty bad two weeks,” midfielder Cole Grossman told reporters on Thursday. “We took it pretty hard. We didn't do well enough, and then in the Open Cup game, we were awful.”
Awful enough that RSL coach Jeff Cassar — almost always positive and optimistic — went after his own team in postgame comments.
“I don’t think anybody played well tonight,” he said. “We got outplayed, and there’s no positives at all from this game.”
Almost two weeks later, Cassar seemed almost sheepish about those comments and said his optimism has returned in a hurry after time off he deemed, “fantastic.”
“It was great for everyone to get away from the game,” Cassar said. “Practices since we've been back have been fantastic, probably some of our best of the year.”
The training sessions have come without captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando, both on duty with the US national team at the World Cup, and all-time leading scorer Álvaro Saborío, who broke his foot training with Costa Rica prior to the World Cup. The break from league action has given several other players a chance to recover from less serious injuries.
“I've never been a part of a team this shorthanded before, between World Cup guys and injuries,” Grossman said. “In the last couple of weeks, we were barely able to fill out an 18[-man roster]. In that sense, I think it's incredibly valuable.”
Cassar said the players returned “re-focused, re-energized.” The coach was quick to point out that, despite the pre-break swoon, RSL remain in second place in the Western Conference and second overall in MLS.
“Now it's the second half of the season: Can we learn from our mistakes? Can we have good performances?” Cassar asked rhetorically. “The reaction from the guys has been fantastic.”
RSL (6-2-7, 25 points) return to league action against Chivas USA (2-7-5, 11 points) on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), and Cassar said his team cannot afford to look past the team tied for the worst record in MLS.
“Where we want to build on our first half, they want to forget their first half,” Cassar said, singling out Erick Torres, Leandro Barrera and Mauro Rosales as players that concern him. “These are dangerous players on the ball, given time.
"Our job is to make sure they don't get time and space to get on the ball. This week we worked on really closing down, getting down, not letting anybody play.”