SANDY — Notwithstanding its recent road struggles, Real Salt Lake actually has plenty to be optimistic about as the second half of the season ramps up.
After dropping some disappointing home games earlier in the season, RSL has strung together three straight wins at Rio Tinto Stadium in the past month. There’s an aura of confidence within the team at home that was lacking earlier.
Rio Tinto Stadium is by no means the intimidating fortress it once was for visiting foes, but it could be trending that way if Real Salt Lake keeps pocketing three points each time out.
RSL will look to make it four straight this Friday when it welcomes Orlando (7:30 p.m., ESPN) and its head coach Jason Kreis — the original architect of the Rio Tinto Stadium fortress.
“It’s a huge positive on the season so far, three in a row at home. It’s something to build off of. It gives us another opportunity to get four straight at home and it’s probably been a while since we did that,” said captain Kyle Beckerman.
Salt Lake won its first four home games last season, early momentum that helped the club ultimately earn the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference with 47 points.
A similar point total will be necessary to make the playoffs again, and considering RSL's road woes, three points at home is a virtual must every time out.
With nine home games remaining, 27 points is the maximum Real Salt Lake can secure at Rio Tinto Stadium the rest of the season. That would put the club on 44 points assuming it can’t pick anything up on the road. Both scenarios are unlikely, something Beckerman isn’t worried about right now either.
“That’s what we can control right now, we have some confidence at home, so if we can continue that and try and drag that over to the road, get back into the playoff conversation,” said Beckerman. “It’s a huge game for us, big opportunity.”
Coach Mike Petke altered the formation in last week’s loss at San Jose, but RSL will likely revert back to its more familiar 4-3-3 formation this week against Orlando.
“I’m going to adapt at certain times to the way other teams play and how we think we can best counter them, that was one of those situations,” said Petke.
Albert Rusnak could give Real Salt Lake another attacking option as he returned to Utah on Thursday after participating in the European Under-21 Championships with the Slovakian National Team the past couple weeks. RSL went 1-1-0 in the two games he missed.
Regardless of who’s on the field, RSL should expect success against an Orlando team that’s very good at home (6-1-3) and mediocre on the road (1-5-2).
Last Saturday Orlando conceded twice at Chicago in the opening 10 minutes and ultimately lost 4-0.
Friday’s match will feature a postgame fireworks show at Rio Tinto Stadium, but fireworks are likely early as well. Real Salt Lake (10 goals) and Orlando (6 goals) rank first and second in MLS in the number of goals conceded in the opening 15 minutes of matches this season.
RSL conceded early last week at San Jose yet again, a frustrating trend that Petke keeps addressing.
“What we talk about all the time and work on, is to keep the ball out of the back of the net. There’s no magic potion to it, it’s work, it’s repetition, it’s repeating punch lines and statements until we get it through,” said Petke.
His team has earned two straight shutouts at home, a good sign that the message is sinking in at home.