Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey insists he's sleeping fine these days, although he admits "I try not to dream too much." Given the nightmare start to the season that RSL has endured, it's easy to understand Lagerwey's reluctance to slip into REM sleep.
Heading into the 2009 campaign, Real were dreaming of an MLS Cup. So much so that they took a page out of the Columbus Crew's playbook, and bet that keeping their nucleus of players intact would position them for a title run.
It hasn't happened, with the team's attack sputtering for much of the season. Granted, RSL currently ranks seventh in the league in scoring, but 10 of their 16 goals have come in two games. Those kinds of Jekyll and Hyde performances have resulted in a 3-6-3 record and sixth place in the Western Conference.
"There's no question that we have to finish better," said Lagerwey. "It's been our problem for a year-and-a-half. ... We've just got to be more efficient. We definitely created enough chances against Colorado."
In that match last Saturday, RSL was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw after dominating for long stretches. They even went ahead late through Yura Movsisyan, only to throw it away on a red card to defender Robbie Russell and an even later wonder strike from Colorado's Omar Cummings.
Yet rather than bring in reinforcements, Lagerwey is betting that some intense competition for places among the corps of forwards already on the roster will break the team out of its funk. Both Movsisyan and Robbie Findley have been especially wasteful this season, although the hope is that Movsisyan's goal on Saturday will give him a dose of much-needed confidence. Fabian Espindola certainly staked his claim to more playing time by delivering an energetic performance in a wider role on the left flank, while Luis Escalada remains in the wings.
"If we can get two of these guys scoring at the same time, that's the answer," said Lagerwey. "We really believe we have the answer from within the group."
Finding the requisite intensity has been a problem at times this season, especially during a disheartening 2-1 loss to basement-dwelling San Jose back on May 30. That facet improved enough against Colorado for Lagerwey to be worried about other things ahead of this weekend's match in Los Angeles against the Galaxy, especially with his usual central midfield duo of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales back from suspension.
"If we are able to come out with that level of possession and combativeness [against Colorado], and you add Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales playing at a high level, I think it's reasonable to expect success from the group," said Lagerwey.
Reasonable, yes, but not guaranteed, especially as it relates to Morales. After enjoying a breakout season in 2008, the Argentinean has struggled to cope with the increased amount of attention he's been getting, especially when it strays beyond that allowed by the Laws of the Game. When the going has gotten rough, Morales' impulse has been to lash back, and as a result, he's already been suspended twice this season after earning just five yellow cards in his first 18 months in the league.
Even in games where he hasn't been cautioned, Morales has labored to stay focused, and this has contributed more than anything to Real's misfiring attack.
"I think he's on everybody's radar screen this year, and he's getting kicked a lot and getting manhandled," said Lagerwey of Morales. "I think he needs to do a better job of keeping his cool and we need to do a better job as a team of helping him out, so he's not spending so much time on the ball and absorbing the kind of punishment he's been taking."
Despite their poor form this season, RSL is just three points off last year's pace. But Lagerwey admits that his team doesn't have the luxury of having a strong finish be enough to get them into the postseason. That means getting a result this weekend against a shorthanded Galaxy side.
"Obviously we've got to try and grind out some results here," said Lagerwey. "We've got to get some stuff to fall our way pretty shortly."
Otherwise, the nightmare looks set to continue.
"Pippo" Lillingston, I presume? "Poacher" is one of those soccer terms that is equal parts praise and criticism. On the one hand, such a player obviously has a knack for being in the right place, at the right time. On the other, well, the perception is that they don't really add much else to the team. AC Milan legend Filippo "Pippo" Inzaghi, perhaps the most adept poacher in the modern game, was described by Johan Cruyff as someone who "can't actually play football. He just always seems to be in the right place."
What to make then of Chivas USA forward Eduardo Lillingston? Certainly, his five goals in 12 matches have been a boon to the Red-and-White. Heck, his ability to simply stay healthy makes him unique among Chivas' stable of forwards. And Saturday's strike against Seattle was vintage Lillingston, as he knocked home a rebound from Paulo Nagamura's fierce drive.
But a quick chat with Chivas head coach Preki illustrates the Lillingston conundrum, complete with the dreaded P-word.
"Lillingston has been good for us," said Preki. "He's a goal-poacher; he scores goals, and it looks like he's getting settled."
But when asked how Lillingston was faring in the other aspects of his game the Chivas manager was his usual blunt self.
"He can do better," said Preki of Lillingston. "He's pretty technical, but he can keep the ball better for us. Some games he's good, but in others, he complicates things and he gets into trouble.
"He needs to control the ball better and stay central. It's better for him and better for the team when he keeps the ball better."
If Lillingston can do those things, and continue to score goals, then maybe he can shed the "poacher" label for good.
Salary purge in San Jose: When the San Jose Earthquakes signed forward Cornell Glen two weeks ago, it was evident that more moves were in the team's future. On Tuesday, the trickle became a flood and an even bigger torrent is expected to come later. The Quakes sent forward Cam Weaver to Houston in exchange for Chris Wondolowski and a conditional second-round draft pick. But the whopper was the moving of defender Nick Garcia as well as the discovery rights to Ali Gerba to Toronto in exchange for a third-round pick.
"We haven't been happy all season so far," said Doyle. "It's come to a point where we had to change some things around, and some opportunities came up."
While it was no secret just how much Garcia was struggling this season, the key for San Jose is the clearing of a significant amount of salary cap space. Just how much of Garcia's salary headed east with him, Doyle wasn't saying, stating that was "between us and Toronto." But one can expect the Quakes to make a move for another central defender, and perhaps a central midfielder soon.
Doyle also didn't completely dismiss a rumor that has Francisco Lima returning to the Quakes.
"Lima may be out there, but it's yet to be seen if it's something we're going to do or if we can come to an agreement with him," said Doyle. "It's an option like any other option."
As for what the Quakes will do in the meantime, look for Aaron Pitchkolan to slide into Garcia's spot on the backline.
Jeff Carlisle is a regular contributor to ESPN Soccernet, and covers the San Jose Earthquakes for Center Line Soccer and MLSnet.com. Jeff can be reached at email@example.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.