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RSL hopes to attack D.C. United early and often

Albert Rusn‡k shoots on goal during the Real Salt Lake vs Sporting Kansas City game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, July 22, 2017.
Albert Rusn‡k shoots on goal during the Real Salt Lake vs Sporting Kansas City game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, July 22, 2017.
Kelsey Brunner,

SANDY — As Real Salt Lake prepares for a road game at D.C. United Saturday, it is clear the team will try to open up the game and push forward more to score, as draws are not enough now to make a late run at the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Lately, due to the skill of RSL's attacking players and their ability to get out in transition and counterattack, teams have begun to play conservatively, getting a lot of players back on defense every possession.

"It’s obvious that teams are going to come in and sit behind the ball against us now," coach Mike Petke said.

The result has been three straight disappointing ties at home, including Saturday's 0-0 draw against Houston, in which RSL totaled zero shots on net.

In league play, road teams often play a similar style to RSL's latest opponents, hesitating to attack too much against a team energized by the home crowd and hungry to score goals.

However, as RSL plays its first of two road matches, the counter-attack could work well against home teams that are more willing to push forward early and often. The team has shown an ability to play well together in road matches, including two straight blowout wins, 4-1 over Portland and 6-2 over the L.A. Galaxy.

"We feel great to go on the road because we scored ten goals in the last two games on the road," midfielder Albert Rusnak said. "So there’s a feeling at the moment, in the locker room, that for us it’s a little bit better to play on the road because teams cannot sit as much as they can on the road, so maybe it will be better for us."

What this attacking style means, however, is that there is a lot of responsibility on the midfielders and left and right backs to not only get into D.C.'s final third and set up scoring chances but also hustle back on defense.

If RSL is impatient and too aggressive at the back line, it could leave the remaining defenders exposed at the back. Giving up goals early could mean a team like D.C. switches back to a defensive style and makes it harder for RSL to score than it already will be.

“We’re professionals and we’ve gotta be balanced," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said.

Sitting in eighth place, six points back from a spot in the playoffs with 10 games left, RSL should be excited at the prospect of playing against D.C.'s defense, which has allowed 43 goals this season, the most in the Eastern Conference.

Even though the United own the worst record in MLS, 5-4-14, they have shown flashes of brilliance that could spell some trouble if RSL looks past them.

"They’re in last position but that means nothing," Rusnak said. "We’ve seen some films where they were 3-0 up on Seattle, and Seattle is a great team, so there’s no easy team in the MLS."

RSL is looking at the game as just one of its final 10, but a loss, or even a draw, Saturday could put a real damper in the team's playoff hopes.

"Time is running out, so we can’t take any more breaks,” defender Justen Glad said.