Real Salt Lake more than "in a groove" as RioT dominance continues

At what point is Real Salt Lake’s form not a surprise and plainly the way things are? It’s a valid question as head coach Pablo Mastroeni’s group keeps stacking points and bucking external expectations.

After a 3-0 home win over Houston Dynamo FC on Saturday night, the Claret-and-Cobalt are now 9W-4L-5D spanning from Decision Day a year ago, through the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs and into Week 14 of the 2022 regular season. Only MLS Cup 2021 winners New York City FC, from a results perspective in league competition, have been more successful across that span.

This year, they’re just four points off LAFC’s Supporters’ Shield pace and have won four of their past five games. Amid differing circumstances in 2022, victories have come over Seattle Sounders FC (Concacaf Champions League title-holders), New England Revolution (reigning Supporters’ Shield winners), fellow Western Conference contenders LA Galaxy and Austin FC, high-flying CF Montréal and more.

Again, should RSL, a smaller-market club, be thought about in a different way at a national level?

“It’s a carryover from last year,” Mastroeni said postgame. “How we ended the season last year was about giving it 100 percent every day and what we had to do in order to make it as far as we did in the playoffs, away from home. And that carried on to the beginning of the season.

“Again, the leadership group has been fantastic. They’ve been really demanding from each other every day in training, what we anticipate seeing in games. And when you train hard and you train with commitment, the game should be a reflection of that. It really has been for these guys and I couldn’t be more proud of the group.”

RSL’s latest win, paced by goals from defender Justen Glad and forwards Bobby Wood and Sergio Cordova, came before a sixth consecutive sellout crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium to start the 2022 season. Goalkeeper Zac MacMath made four saves to earn his fifth shutout of the year, and their 25 points amassed match the club’s best-ever start (2014) to a season. Further, RSL have matched their best-ever RioT starts (2010, 2016), moving to 5W-0L-1D at home this season.

Good times are abound in Sandy, Utah as their new ownership group takes root and invests in a side that started 2022 with the lowest team wages league-wide, per MLS Players Association data. Their injury list's been among the longest in MLS at times, and captain Damir Kreilach's played in just five games.

“We’re in a great spot,” Glad said. “The team’s in a groove right now. The players are happy, it’s a good vibe in the locker room. We just got \[Jefferson\] Savarino back, we’re in a good spot for sure. We just need to keep the momentum going.”

As Glad noted, Savarino re-debuted for the club when entering for Maikel Chang in the 71st minute. While the Venezuelan international winger and Designated Player didn’t get on the scoresheet, he looked lively on the right flank in his first match since arriving from Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro.

Savarino rose to prominence at RSL from 2017-19 before his transfer back to South America, and now the 25-year-old’s eager to vault this project forward.

“I’m in a really great locker room,” Savarino said. “There’s a lot more energy, not just from the Latino players, but from the American players as well, which is something that you definitely need to get the results to go your way.”

RSL’s international break won’t come just yet, as they’ll visit Vancouver Whitecaps FC on June 4 (7 pm ET) before getting a two-week reprieve. Then comes three of four at the RioT, leaving Mastroeni’s group poised to possibly further climb the table.

“You just keep building on it,” said Mastroeni, who was interim manager late in 2021 before getting the permanent gig this offseason. “We’re going to have to double down on everything that we’ve been doing in order to keep moving.”