Real Salt Lake pledge to end untimely goal drought by any means necessary

SANDY, Utah – The first came on a penalty kick, a Joao Plata rocket into the top left corner, courtesy of a Yura Movsisyan run that compelled a sloppy tackle in the box.

The second: another Plata affair, an easy tap-in off a weighted cross from Tony Beltran.

A snap header by Sunday Stephen. A Jamison Olave bully-the-keeper special. A nasty dipping shot over the wall from Plata and an overpowering breakaway from Movsisyan.

Real Salt Lake began the 2016 season as one of the most prolific-scoring teams in the league, and every goal seemed to come in a distinctly different way.

Now RSL are suffering one of the worst scoring droughts in team history – just a single goal in the past five games.

And the timing couldn’t be worse. The Claret-and-Cobalt need a win in Seattle on Sunday (4 pm ET; ESPN in US, MLS LIVE in Canada) to secure the Western Conference's fourth seed in the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. That’s got head coach Jeff Cassar thinking back to the first games of the season, when his team was scoring creatively, authoritatively, sneakily and even accidentally – but in all cases confidently.

“There’s no one answer to scoring when you’re not scoring,” Cassar said on Tuesday, three days after a goalless home draw with Sporting Kansas City and 54 days since his team’s last victory. “There are multiple things that have happened, but at the end of the day, those things are really just excuses because you have to find ways, and we just haven’t found those ways.”

But the goals are there for the taking, he said.

Cassar's team took 15 shots on Sunday. The coach believes Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia had to play “one of the best games of his life” to thwart Salt Lake’s attack.

“We’ve managed to knock on the door,” Cassar said.

But, he acknowledged, his team can’t knock forever. At some point his players will have to break the door down – by whatever means necessary.

“You can find goals in all kinds different ways,” he said. “Pure pressure. Mistakes. Set plays.”

That’s what Salt Lake was doing when it picked up 14 points in six games at the start of the season. That, Cassar said, is what his players need to do against the Sounders.

He’s not worried, per se. There are 27 win-loss-tie scenarios in the Western Conference that could affect Real’s postseason positioning; 26 of those scenarios put RSL in the playoffs. (The poisonous permutation is a Salt Lake loss and wins from both Kansas City and Portland.)

Cassar, an avid Texas hold’em poker player, likens his team’s situation to being dealt pocket aces. “We’ve got a good hand,” he said, “and we’ve played our cards right. But it’s like we’re down to the river card, right? We have to finish with our last bet.”

Cassar said it would be foolish to bet on any one way to the net, or relying on one player to score. And that’s a good thing, since the one player whose career has been defined by clutch goals was limping hard out of Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday.

Cassar said he had a long conversation with Movsisyan, who is fighting a bruised heel, on Tuesday; they’ll decide on Saturday what to do.

“We have to consider everything,” Cassar said. “Obviously Sunday is extremely important, but as of right now we could lose the game and still be in the playoffs.”

With the potential of a Sunday-Thursday-Sunday game situation, he noted, “we can’t run out the same players every game, especially with travel and the intensity we expect.”

So yes, Movsisyan might sit. Cassar said his star striker is at peace with that.

“No one,” the coach said, “wants to see the team have more success than Yura. He doesn’t just want to do what’s right for him, he wants to do what’s right for the team.”

What’s right for the team, right now, Cassar said, is by-whatever-means-necessary soccer, the kind his men played when this season was young. “Without a doubt that was some of our best soccer,” he said.

And on Sunday, he pledged, they’d channel it.