SANDY, Utah — Last week’s two-game set from Real Salt Lake featured a 4-1 rout of Toronto in CONCACAF Champions League action and a narrow 1-0 victory over Chicago to set an MLS record home unbeaten streak at 23 games.
Though neither match showcased RSL at their best, earning two wins in such a compressed period is a welcome achievement for the club.
It’s obvious the team has been playing on weary legs as of late, so the win against Chicago was gratifying despite what head coach Jason Kreis called a “low-energy game.”
This week, the team will make another international trip, this time to Panama to visit Árabe Unido for a midweek CONCACAF battle. They then return home to take on their fierce Western Conference rivals, the Colorado Rapids, in league play.
Grinding it out
Over the past couple of years, Real Salt Lake haven’t appeared as a "grind one out" type of team. They’ve been more of the high-octane, finesse type.
However, their last four league matches have resembled two sluggers punching it out in the ring. They have only scored two goals over that stretch, but they have kept their net clear in the process. In fact, they've not conceded a goal in five MLS games.
This newfound toughness and ability to win matches in ugly fashion could come in handy as the playoffs approach.
As RSL enter the heart of another tough streak from a scheduling standpoint, the rash of injuries they encountered a couple of weeks ago appears to be passing.
Alvaro Saborio avoided missing a game because of a knee injury, and though Fabian Espindola has missed a couple of encounters, he was reportedly close to being available for their most recent match and could see action this week.
Ned Grabavoy returned to action last week and played a pivotal role in the defeat of Chicago after earning what turned out to be the game-winning PK call.
Perhaps the injury with the greatest impact is to playmaker Javier Morales. His quadriceps is not quite healed yet, but he's getting better and is hopeful to return to practice this week. Whether he’ll be available for either contest in the coming days has not yet been determined.
For the second straight league match, Real Salt Lake earned a penalty kick — their third of the season. Though Grabavoy created the chance by earning the PK, he made no move to take the attempt, unlike Robbie Findley a week ago.
“I’ll be more than happy to step up there,” he said after the victory. “I’ll be the first one to tell you that whatever forward out there wants to step up there and take it, should, because those are the guys that we count on to score goals.”
Grabavoy mentioned that Saborío has been particularly effective with penalty kicks recently.
“He has [been clinical with PKs]," Grabavoy said. "He hits it with pace.”
Real Salt Lake fans got their first glimpse of their newest player. Paulo Junior, as the Brazilian prefers to be known, had quite a week. First, he scored in his club debut against Toronto. He then nearly scored in his first minute of the next match against Chicago.
“I thought he came in and did pretty well [against Chicago]," Kreis said. “The first thing he does when he gets on the ball is take a great shot that hits the post. That’s why we signed him, because we know he strikes a fantastic ball. He can do some dangerous things around the opponent’s goal.”
Following RSL's 13th shutout of the season, goalkeeper Nick Rimando praised his team's stout defense.
“That was the focus from the beginning of preseason – team defense — and it’s paying off now because we’re starting to get some tired legs," Rimando said. "It’s not always the prettiest soccer, but if we continue to defend as a team, they’re not going to score, they’re not going to win and we are going to at least get a point.”
Grabavoy discussed his insertion into the No. 10 role for the suspended Javier Morales.
“That was the first time I’ve played there for this club this year," Grabavoy said. "I do feel comfortable there. I just try to stay as high as I can, and support the forwards. I think you saw it on that goal, as I just made that little run, and it made the difference.”