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RSL offense impressive, but improved defense keeps chugging along

Real Salt Lake forward Brooks Lennon (12) stops the ball ahead of Sporting Kansas City forward Gerso (12) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, June 29, 2019.
Real Salt Lake forward Brooks Lennon (12) stops the ball ahead of Sporting Kansas City forward Gerso (12) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, June 29, 2019.
Spenser Heaps

HERRIMAN — Considering Real Salt Lake is coming off of a thriller against the top team in Major League Soccer, it’d be easy to focus on the club’s offensive explosion against Philadelphia.

Even without leading scorer Sam Johnson — who’s out for 6-8 weeks with an injury — Real pounded Philly 4-0 to win for the third time in four games.

It was RSL's biggest offensive outing of the season.

And while scoring goals is always fun — and Jefferson Savarino doubled his pleasure with a pair of goals last Saturday — RSL coach Mike Petke admitted the stat that he likes most about recent games has to do with the other side of the field.

Real Salt Lake has only allowed two goals in five games, a stretch that includes three wins, one tie and a 1-0 loss.

Petke lauded his players for playing "great organized defense over the last couple of games."

The improved spurt began after a disappointing 3-0 home loss to Los Angeles FC in the U.S. Open Cup just over a month ago. Since then, RSL tied Chicago 1-1, defeated Sporting KC 2-0 and Columbus 1-0 in back-to-back games followed by a 1-0 setback to San Jose and the four-goal blowout.

"Looking at the past four games, in my opinion, I think it’s the best defensively we’ve been in a long time, especially this past weekend against Philadelphia," RSL forward Brooks Lennon said. "Holding that talented of a team to that limited chances, I thought we were really good at the back."

The Union weren't even able to get off one official shot on goal. Petke said his players have done a good job of knowing when to press and knowing when to back off.

"I'm happy with that," he added.

It’s all helped RSL climb back into playoff contention with a 9-2-9 record and 29 points, good for sixth in the Western Conference for now.

Lennon credited the team's "special awareness" to the improved results. It begins with personal responsibility on the defensive end and transitions to offense.

"When the ball's wide and we’re defending across, everyone’s been touch-tight and we have great spaces in between us so we’re not right on top of each other and someone else is open," Lennon said.

"And then on offense, I think we’ve been moving the ball really well, breaking the lines, trying to feed those midfielders and keep those balls penetrated."

RSL will have its work cut out again this week when it hosts Minnesota United, which comes in with a 10-3-7 mark and one of the best offenses in the league.

"We’re looking to try and put the same performance against Minnesota that we did against Philadelphia," Lennon said.

That Salt Lake-Minnesota match, which includes a fireworks show, will take place Saturday at 8 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.