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Real Salt Lake discouraged by ties, encouraged by quality of play

SANDY — There was a disappointing feel in the Real Salt Lake locker room after Saturday’s draw against Houston. The players and coaches know they squandered a great opportunity in only getting three ties out of three straight home games.

Missed opportunities in front of goal denied Real Salt Lake a chance to secure up to nine points in the three matches. Had it won all three it would sit tied for fifth in the Western Conference and in a playoff position.

Instead, it’s still in eighth place and has a lot of ground to make up to climb back into the MLS playoff picture.

Finishing aside, Real Salt Lake’s quality on the field is starting to trend upward as evidenced by a five-game unbeaten streak (2-0-3).

“Tonight was another game where I thought we played well and just were unfortunate not to get on the score sheet and win the game,” said defender Chris Wingert. “Five games unbeaten, so I guess there are some good things to take out of it but, yeah, absolutely when we have home games we need to be getting all three points at least the majority of the time. But again, the parity in the league, we’re still not that far out of it so we got just to keep pushing and hopefully we can get a win on the road next week.”

Only four other teams in MLS are in the midst of a five-game unbeaten streak — Atlanta, Seattle, Kansas City and Toronto. All four are sitting in a playoff position.

Real Salt Lake isn’t in a playoff position because it dug a massive hole at the start of the season, otherwise home ties against two of the best teams in the Western Conference, Kansas City and Houston, wouldn’t seem quite so discouraging.

Coach Mike Petke believes the five-game unbeaten streak is a strong indicator of a team trending upward heading into the final 10 games of the season. At this point, he’s not sure if he’d rather see his team playing good soccer or having more points in his back pocket.

“Am I happy with the way we are creating and playing right now? Or do I wish we were playing like crap and scoring three or four goals a game? It’s the yin and the yang and I haven’t decided which way I would prefer but I enjoy the way we are playing right now, we are just not finding the net at the moment,” said Petke.

Real Salt Lake’s next two games are against D.C. United and Montreal, two teams below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference. If RSL could pocket four or six points in the matches, its playoff prospects would improve dramatically.

“I still think there is a great opportunity for us to get where we need to go point-wise to the playoffs based on how the Western Conference is going. So 10 games left, not pushing the panic button, I never panic. I get anxious. I don’t panic or get nervous and I am going to compete as well as these guys are going to compete until the last day of the season,” said Petke.

If Real Salt Lake starts converting a few more of its chances, it could be a great day at Rio Tinto Stadium in that season finale on Oct. 22 against rival Kansas City.