SANDY — With just one victory over its past six matches, Real Salt Lake has slowly drifted further down the Western Conference standings, and at the moment finds itself below the playoff line with seven matches remaining.
Damir Kreilach said all it takes to climb back above the playoff line is a victory, but that would require a quality and sharpness that simply haven’t been there of late.
RSL currently sits in 10th place in the West, but well within striking distance of the middle of the Western pack, just three points behind fifth-place LAFC. At the same time, RSL is only three points clear of Vancouver and the L.A. Galaxy, who are tied for last in the West.
RSL will play Vancouver on Saturday in Portland because of the coronavirus pandemic (8 p.m., KMYU), a massive match for two teams desperate for points.
“The urgency for us has definitely been raised after the last couple of results,” said RSL defender Aaron Herrera, adding, “We’re not in panic mode, that’s for sure.”
His team is coming off a 2-1 loss at Seattle on Wednesday, but Herrera said despite the current situation, the mood around the team has been good.
“Last couple days have been good actually. Today was a good training, everyone’s energy was high. I think everyone is just looking forward to bouncing back. This is the one good thing about having a game two game after your last one, you get an opportunity to bounce back quick,” he said.
RSL and Vancouver met at Rio Tinto Stadium back on Sept. 19, with the visiting Whitecaps stealing the full three points against shorthanded RSL courtesy of an 84th-minute Lucas Cavallini winner. RSL played the final 30 minutes with 10 men after Kyle Beckerman picked up his second yellow card and was ejected.
Vancouver has lost four straight since that win, but it will be full of confidence Saturday knowing it’s facing a fellow playoff outsider.
“We definitely have to be smart, obviously not getting stupid cards that sort of throw your team under the bus,” said Herrera.
RSL coach Freddy Juarez said he expects Vancouver to play with two forwards up top, Cavallini and Freddy Montero. The Whitecaps will likely sit deep as they often do and concede possession, waiting to pounce in transition. Juarez said that’s likely where the game will be won or lost.
“If we lose the ball, expect it to go vertical quickly, so we’ve got to control that moment, really intelligent and really committed,” he said.
RSL’s coach rested a handful of his regulars in Seattle midweek, including Kreilach and Donny Toia, but both figure to be back in the starting 11 Saturday.