Just past the halfway point of their 2021 MLS campaign, Real Salt Lake are exceeding preseason expectations that surrounded the club.
Picked by many to miss the playoffs and finish toward the bottom of the Western Conference table, RSL have quietly put together a solid campaign. Heading into midweek action, they're in the West's sixth playoff spot and have a +7 goal differential that's the fourth-best mark in the conference.
RSL striker Bobby Wood believes that they've established a strong base from which they can build a strong contender.
"We have high potential," Wood said on this week's Extratime episode. "We have a great group of guys, the mentality, it's all there, everyone's fit, everyone's there mentally. We've got a hard-working team, everyone from top to bottom just wants to work hard. I think it's a process of just building that even more and more and as the season goes on hopefully we'll be able to build a step at a time. For me, I think we have a very strong team and I don't think we should be looked down on as much as a lot of people do maybe."
On an individual level, Wood figures to play a key role for Freddy Jaurez's team. The 28-year-old arrived in June after spending his entire professional career to that point in Germany, dating back to his youth days at 1860 Munich. He'd been away for so long, Wood told Extratime co-hosts David Gass and Calen Carr, that he simply felt that it was time to come home for a reset.
"I think mentally I was ready to come home," Wood said. "I was in Germany for 14 years, and since 14 I've seen my mom and family once a year. So, just mentally I was ready to come home. Having a second daughter, it just felt right to come home and have my family grow up here and be closer to my family and have a home feeling and just mentally I was ready for that."
A one-time regular for the US men's national team with 13 goals in 45 appearances, Wood hasn't been in the picture at the international level since a November 2018 friendly against Italy. He's been sidelined by injuries and up-and-down club situations while the team's next generation of young talent has started to emerge.
Asked whether working his way into contention is a goal, Wood said he's thought about it but remains focused on finding regular playing time at RSL and supplying goals, like in last weekend's 1-0 win over Austin FC. If he can manage that, he'll let the chips fall where they may regarding any future USMNT call-ups.
"I haven't talked to the federation in a while, but it's not surprising, I haven't played in a while," Wood said. "So, with the high-level talent that the national team has now, it's not anything I expected. But right now for me, it's always an honor to play with the national team, but right now it's all about RSL.
"I just need to do my thing here and once I make that step and get that flow, I can look forward to maybe playing with the national team again. But for now, I'm just going to concentrate on getting my form back, playing as much as I can and just having fun again."
For more from Wood, check out the entire Extratime episode here.