SANDY — It’s pretty easy to find Real Salt Lake in the MLS standings these days. Just look at the top of the table.
Just as general manager Garth Lagerwey predicted in the preseason when he stressed the young team would get better and better each month, Real Salt Lake now owns the best record in MLS by virtue of Saturday’s convincing 2-0 victory over the visiting Seattle Sounders.
Every team but one still has games in hand on coach Jason Kreis’ team, but RSL’s 30 points in the standings are best in MLS for the time being.
“I think it’s great. I think we’re in a great situation. I don’t want us to rest on our laurels. I don’t think we’ve played our best soccer, which is good. I think we have a lot of potential, and I think we can go a long ways if we make sure we’re playing hungry and wanting to win,” said defender Nat Borchers.
Real Salt Lake is now 8-1-1 in its last 10 games in all competitions, and Saturday’s win over an equally hot Seattle club — 5-1-1 in its last seven — might’ve been the most impressive result yet.
RSL dominated possession throughout, and a goal late in the first half by Kyle Beckerman and then a goal early in the second half by Robbie Findley was more than enough scoring on a night veteran Alvaro Saborio returned to the starting lineup for the first time in two months.
Since losing to Los Angeles 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 27, Real Salt Lake has enjoyed a metamorphosis on the attacking end the past two months, outscoring its opposition a staggering 27-12.
The stretch has vaulted RSL into first place for the first time since last June, but Kreis stressed that the midway point of the season is no time to be worried about first place.
“Just because we’re first now I’m not going to start concerning myself with being happy about that,” he said.
After a handful of near misses throughout the first half, Beckerman broke the deadlock with Seattle in the 41st minute by volleying home a deflected free kick.
Javier Morales’ 24-yard free kick took a deflection off Seattle’s wall and redirected to Beckerman at the right edge of the 6-yard box. Just before Seattle defender Djimi Traore could clear the ball, Beckerman volleyed it over Seattle 'keeper Michael Gspurning and off the bottom of the crossbar.
“Outstanding finish. That was not an easy strike to take, and he took it extremely calmly and well,” said Kreis.
Less than a minute into the second half, RSL doubled its lead on a fortuitous goal from Findley. The striker was originally denied point-blank by Gspurning, but Saborio's follow-up shot landed at Findley’s feet just seconds later and this time he tucked the shot under Gspurning for the 2-0 lead.
As strong as RSL’s attack was, the defensive effort was equally as strong. The Sounders didn’t register their first shot of the game until the 74th minute — shocking for a team that came into the game with 13 goals in its past five matches.
“To limit them to the number of chances that we did showed a very strong defensive effort by everybody involved, not just the back four and (goalkeeper Nick) Rimando, but the midfielders, the commitment they showed, (Ned) Grabavoy, (Khari) Stephenson, Morales, Beckerman … was simply fantastic,” said Kreis.
The absence of midfield engine Osvaldo Alonso, who was out with a quad injury, no doubt hurt the Sounders, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered Saturday.
The shutout was RSL’s second in its past three games, significant for a team that only had three shutouts in its first 14 games this season.
“We were good at shutting down the entry passes, and I thought we were just good and being smart and dropping off when the balls went over the top. We didn’t let them get behind us, which is where they’re most dangerous,” said Borchers.
RSL returns to action Wednesday when it hosts lower-division Carolina in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal game.