SANDY — Nearing the midway point of the MLS season, Real Salt Lake isn’t anywhere close to where it expects to be in the Western Conference standings.
Occupying the ninth spot in the conference, RSL trails West-leading Vancouver by nine points and is three points out of a playoff position. With just four wins and 17 points, the club’s five-year streak of 15 wins and 50 points is in jeopardy.
If Real Salt Lake is going to make a push, it might need to happen now.
Beginning with Sunday’s match against Colorado (3 p.m., ESPN2), six of RSL’s next eight league matches are at Rio Tinto Stadium. For a team that’s only played six of 14 at home so far this season, it’s a welcome stretch of games over the next two months.
“When you can get a stretch of games at home, you can kind of get into a rhythm, get into a good mindset, hopefully accumulate points and put yourself in a strong position for the last bit of the year,” said coach Jeff Cassar, who said the upcoming stretch is massive.
If Real Salt Lake can put together a nice stretch of results, it should climb right back into the Western Conference picture. If it doesn’t, however, making a push in the fall while also juggling CONCACAF Champions League will be difficult.
“This is going to show where we’re going to be for the last push of the year. What we want to do is make sure that we’re within striking distance of the top three at all times. Right now we are, even without putting the streaks together,” said Cassar.
It all starts on Sunday against rival Colorado, and picking up three points against the last-place team in the West seems like a must.
RSL will be shorthanded without Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, who are in Europe for a couple of U.S. National Team friendlies. Playing without a full deck has been the story of the season and will continue to be with impending Gold Cup later this summer and more national team callups.
Defender Tony Beltran said it’s something the club has grown accustomed to.
“This is the reality every summer. So it’s something we should be used to, and the standard remains high,” said Beltran.
RSL is coming off one-goal losses at Los Angeles and Vancouver last week, and Cassar insists that despite Colorado’s 2-4-7 record it’s no gimme.
“It’s a team that right now just doesn’t quit,” he said.
Real Salt Lake won all three meetings against the Rapids last year to claim the Rocky Mountain Cup for the seventh time in the past eight years. Winning the Cup again is important, but Beltran said that’s not the focus on Sunday.
“It’s not about the rivalry right now. Look at it this way, it’s a Western Conference opponent, it’s a home game. It’s a must win three points,” said Beltran. “Especially against these Western Conference opponents, start putting together some points cause the summer is going to be long and arduous. It gets pretty tough when it gets hot, so start putting points together at home.”
There’s no must-win games in June, but RSL dug a bit of a hole for itself in the first three months.
“I’ve said it before, every single game from here on out is going to be important, especially in the West when it’s so tight in the West with points,” said midfielder Luis Gil.
After Sunday, RSL won’t play another league game until hosting Kansas City on Sunday, June 21. It does, however, host Sounders 2 in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on June 16.
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.