Desperate to find a way to finally put an end to their road woes, Real Salt Lake has found the perfect opponent in FC Dallas, whom they face Saturday night at Pizza Hut Park.
The Hoops are in a state of flux after head coach Steve Morrow was fired following a disastrous 5-1 home loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. FC Dallas has gone from Western Conference frontrunner to also-ran in the space of a month, with a winless record in its last four games.
RSL already beat Dallas 2-1 at home earlier this month, so doing it again should be easy, right? The fact is that little seems to come easily on the road -- as the club can attest with last week's forgettable 2-0 loss to Colorado.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman thinks the kinks can be worked out on the road soon enough. He feels like the team is heading in the direction it needs to go.
"We're still learning," Beckerman said. "We're still trying to mature. We're definitely doing something at home and that's a step. We're taking little baby steps. A draw or a win this week would be a huge step. Another step forward for the club."
RSL might be forced to take further baby steps without the services of their highest-paid player for a second consecutive week. Midfielder Javier Morales continues to nurse an abductor strain and looked very questionable for Saturday's match earlier in the week.
Without him, the RSL side looked lost in the midfield against the Rapids. Andy Williams struggled after sliding into Morales' usual spot. He played too deep in the midfield, at times, which limited his abilities to support RSL in their attack.
Beckerman and Dema Kovalenko both had forgettable outings against Colorado as well -- especially in the second half.
RSL coach Jason Kreis hopes his team will make Morales' absence less of a factor this weekend.
"This is where we hope the belief we've had in these guys comes through," Kreis said.
With the Hoops, RSL face a similar situation that D.C. United presented a few weeks ago -- a quick rematch with a struggling club they dispatched earlier at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
But which Dallas will show up? Will RSL face the crew who took the Western Conference by storm at the start of the season? Or will they deal with the club that has been a shell of itself on both offense and defense in recent weeks?
FCD is struggling, to be sure, giving up eight goals in the four-game winless run while scoring only two. But Beckerman is one not to count out Dallas. Even with their recent slide, the Hoops are only three points removed from first place.
"In this league, some teams -- one day they don't come out and the next day they come out really strong," Beckerman said. "They're going to have confidence. They're going to want that revenge on us and we believe they're not a bad team."
What RSL will need to do to finally break through on the road comes down to a few basic elements. Real need to show they can field a dangerous offense away from Salt Lake City. In four road games -- all losses -- RSL has been shut out twice.
RSL will also need to figure out how to better handle a 3-5-2 formation. The Rapids went to it to aid their successful victory quest and Dallas would seem on track to find out if lightning will strike twice, as the Hoops usually play with a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 system.
Generating some road success, forward Kenny Deuchar said, will hinge on the club adopting a stronger, business-like approach to road games. RSL enjoys success in Utah because other clubs feel some trepidation playing on the artificial surface at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Deuchar thinks creating a similar mental edge on the road could pay dividends down the line.
"We know we can beat this team because we did it a couple of weeks ago," Deuchar said. "So we'll have confidence going in there. And hopefully we can take that into the game. A draw or a victory would be a great result for us."
John Coon is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.