ORLANDO — Two years ago Real Salt Lake had a fantastic preseason but followed it up with one of the worst regular seasons in league history. The following year it had another great preseason but again missed the playoffs.
So you'll have to forgive the players and coaches if they're not stressed about having just one preseason victory thus far.
"The wins and losses aren't bugging me, it's just a matter of (us) sorting things out and figuring out what's best for us," said Real coach John Ellinger following his team's 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls at the Disney Wide World of Sports Sunday night.
Don't be mistaken, Ellinger isn't pleased his first teamers put forth another lethargic effort before a handful of them were subbed off at halftime. He's definitely concerned his team isn't pressuring the ball like it needs to, and in turn he's questioning if the 3-5-2 formation is the best option.
"Your players have to believe; it's a mental thing sometimes," said Ellinger.
In the first half Sunday, the Red Bulls enjoyed the bulk of the possession and all of the chances as they were by far the more aggressive team. After Real reserve Chase Harrison made a handful of great saves to keep things scoreless, New York finally broke through in the 41st minute when Dave Van den Bergh buried a powerful 18-yard shot past a diving Harrison.
The goal came three minutes after Mehdi Ballouchy was justifiably red-carded for a silly lack of discipline. In the 39th minute Ballouchy believed he was fouled by New York's Marvell Wynne, but when the ref didn't make the call Ballouchy dragged Wynne down from behind with absolutely no intent to win the ball. After some pushing and shoving between the two players, Ballouchy was shown the red while Wynne was shown a yellow.
"It was stupid for Mehdi. I understand why he was frustrated, but you've got to be smarter," said Ellinger.
Because it was a preseason game, Kenny Cutler was allowed to replace the ejected Ballouchy. In the second half, Ellinger subbed off players like Eddie Pope, Jason Kreis and Atiba Harris, and decided also to switch to a 4-4-2 formation.
"We're just not getting the kind of pressure on the ball that we need. That's why we have the preseason," said Ellinger. "We said we were going to look at the various systems and see what works for us, but today four in the back worked for us. You just have certain personalities that do better in certain systems."
Ellinger isn't ready to abandon the 3-5-2 by any means, because that formation is the best way to get his many talented midfielders on the field together.
After the sluggish first half, Real (1-3-1) played much better in the second half and just four minutes from time Cutler equalized to earn RSL its first draw of the preseason. Carey Talley got the opportunity started by whipping a dangerous ball into the box that Joey Worthen latched onto near the far post and headed back toward the middle of the box, where Cutler was waiting to slot it into the open net.
"There's been teams who've won every game in preseason and been crap during the year, so I'm thinking this isn't a time now to worry about points," said Talley. "But that being said, I don't think we need to be getting into bad habits. I think we need to start playing a little quicker."
Talley admits he doesn't think Real is quite in the same game mode as other teams, but he doesn't believe that's a bad thing. Last year he believes RSL peaked too early in the preseason and was burnt out on opening day.
"I think we're making improvements each game, and that's the goal," said RSL forward Jeff Cunningham. "At this point we just have to stay healthy and continue to improve."
REAL'S LINE-UP: Chase Harrison, Daniel Torres, Eddie Pope, Jack Stewart, Carey Talley, Jason Kreis, Mehdi Ballouchy, Freddy Adu, Chris Klein, Atiba Harris, Jeff Cunningham.