As the results continue to go against a very frustrated Real Salt Lake squad, defender Nedum Onuoha said now definitely isn’t the time for players to start hanging their heads with six matches remaining in the regular season.
“I think it’s the time where you really have to roll your sleeves up and just commit to getting better individually, and just understanding tactics and stuff going into a game,” said Onuoha, who’s missed RSL past two matches.
“We’re still there, it’s not like it’s 15 points away. It’s right there in our grasp, and we have a great opportunity … against Portland to start a good streak.”— RSL coach Freddy Juarez
As bad as things have been of late, RSL is still only one point out of a Western Conference playoff spot in the shortened 2020 regular season.
Points have been tough to come by with a 1-5-1 record in its past seven matches, and Wednesday night won’t be any easier when surging Portland visits Rio Tinto Stadium (7:30 p.m. MDT, KMYU).
“It’s been a crazy year, and we just need to continue in that and not fall apart, continue to stay motivated and try to end on the right side to get some kind of momentum,” said RSL coach Freddy Juarez.
“We’re still there, it’s not like it’s 15 points away. It’s right there in our grasp, and we have a great opportunity … against Portland to start a good streak.”
Portland and RSL have spent the past month trending in opposite directions.
Back on Sept. 16, both teams were sitting in the middle of the Western Conference pack, with Portland on 15 points and RSL on 14 points.
Since then, RSL has floundered with just one win, while the Timbers have been on a roll with five straight victories and are currently tied for first in the Western Conference with Seattle.
Portland has scored 17 goals during its streak, which includes a pair of 1-0 wins as well. RSL, meanwhile, has scored just five goals in its past five matches.
Onuoha said the team is definitely frustrated with its lack of results recently, but doesn’t believe motivation has been the problem and doesn’t think that will be a problem against the Timbers either.
“Now we’re in a tough run of form, but this is when the big players step up, this is when people get an opportunity to see what they’re made of. I’m excited to see what happens in these next few games because this can highlight to people what their level is,” said Onuoha.
In the only meeting between the two teams back on Aug. 29 in Portland, RSL scored a pair of goals in stoppage time to rally for the 4-4 draw.
Diego Rossi scored in the 90th minute to cut the deficit to 4-3 and then Sam Johnson tied the game in the 94th minute.
Johnson won’t be available for selection in Wednesday’s rematch though as RSL and MLS investigate an off-the-field incident at Johnson’s West Jordan home last week.
According to a report in The Athletic, Johnson held house parties on Oct. 4 and Oct. 7, and a gun shot was allegedly fired at the first party.
Johnson started in the Oct. 7 match in Seattle, but did not travel with the team last weekend to Vancouver.
RSL released the following statement about the matter:
“The team and league are aware of the incident and are currently conducting an investigation. In accordance with health and safety protocols, the player is prohibited from engaging in any team-related activity. We will have no further commend until the conclusion of the league’s investigation.”
With Johnson out, Douglas Martinez will likely make his fourth start in the past five matches. Martinez has yet to record a goal or assist in 13 regular-season appearances this year, but Juarez reiterated his belief in the young forward during a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday.
“It comes with time. Development takes time, goal scoring is the hardest thing in the game. He’s playing now, we trust him in a lot of moments, definitely going to get better every single time he plays,” said Juarez.
Martinez did score a goal in RSL’s elimination match at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando earlier this summer, but that game didn’t count in the official MLS stats or standings.