It’s Thursday, just a day after Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Dynamo came into the match unbeaten in May, taking 10 of a possible 12 points. RSL, just two games removed from a 4-1 loss on the road and sitting in 9th place in the West, seemed to be trending in the wrong direction.
The season thus far has been largely disappointing, when expectations were high before the season that the team could contend in the West. After all, a disastrous start to last season followed by a coaching change had RSL embarking on a second-half run which culminated by missing the playoffs by just a single point.
After an offseason which included re-signing club legends Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman and bringing in Adam Henley, Damir Kreilach, and Alfredo Ortuno from Europe and Pablo Ruiz from Argentina, expectations were high that Real could compete with the best in the West. Add in permanently acquiring young star Brooks Lennon from Liverpool and things were looking up for the team.
Instead the season has been mostly disappointing thus far. After a promising opening draw at FC Dallas, RSL followed with the worst home loss in team history, getting blown out 5-1 by expansion side LAFC. Follow that with five straight road losses, being outscored by a 16-3 total, which included a loss to 10-man Vancouver and taking a lead on Orlando City before giving up three goals in the loss.
Injuries have been a factor as well for RSL this season, with multiple players missing significant time The most recent MLS injury Report having six players out:
D: Tony Beltran – Right knee surgery, out 9 months
D: Shawn Berry – Knee
D: Demar Phillips – Ankle injury
M: Jordan Allen – Knee injury
M: Luke Mulholland – Back injury
GK: Alex Horwath – Achilles surgery, out 6 months
Other Real players have missed time as well which include Adam Henley, Aaron Herrera, Marcelo Silva, Joao Plata, Taylor Peay, and Luis Silva.
That’s an astounding 12 players who have missed at least one game for the Claret and Cobalt, and as the injury issues continue to mount, the team continued to struggle.
This team was supposed to be a playoff team, but instead had yet to win a road game and had registered a -11 goal differential, the second worst in the league.
Things were looking bleak heading into Seattle, especially after Albert Rusnak said before leaving the club to play for Slovakia, “I’m actually happy I’m going to get out of here for a minute because there’s a lot that’s going on off the field”, adding, “and the people to speak to about that are probably the higher up people in the club, and they know what’s going on.”
Some have said the possible issue with Rusnak being upset is the recently released MLS Players salaries, which show Rusnak as the third-highest paid player for the club, despite being arguably the best player and the two-higher paid players barely making an impact, most notably Ortuno who has only played three games.
No matter what problems Rusnak has with club management (and believe me I have many myself), it was not a good look for a team who was already struggling on the pitch, and despite heading on the road to play the Sounders – tied for a league-low 8 points – not many had hope they could win, or even come away with a point.
Instead RSL came out with a 1-0 victory, the first road win of the 2018 campaign. With Rusnak leaving after the win to add to the long injury list, RSL had to play one of the hottest teams in the league, the Houston Dynamo at home.
After taking a 1-0 lead off a Luis Silva strike in the 34th minute, RSL did what they’ve often done, allowing Houston back in the match and struggling to finish games with a young back line.
The Dynamo leveled the game in the 75th minute, and it looked like RSL was going to leave points on the field at home.
Instead of letting frustration creep in or disappointment, Real fought back. They got a majority of the chances over the last 20 minutes of the match, and despite struggling a bit on defense, were able to regain the lead and take the full 3 points when Kyle Beckerman scored in the 82nd minute.
Well color me impressed. I didn’t see that coming. I figured RSL would struggle or be content with a draw or possibly not push and attack as much as they could. I thought Houston would take a hold of the momentum and possibly win the match. Instead Real pushed and fought until the final whistle, which resulted in a big win. They stared adversity in the face, and they overcame it.
So after registering back-to-back wins for the first time all season, is it possible the Claret and Cobalt have started to find their footing? They finally won on the road, and halted Houston’s point streak after giving up the lead, showing the grit to come back and win.
Now granted it’s only a two-game sample size, but it’s the best, albeit short stretch of soccer that RSL has played so far this year. With the wins, they now sit in 5th in the West with 19 points, just above the red line for a playoff spot. There are still 21 games remaining in the season, but if Real can continue to pile up points, they should be a playoff team by season’s end.
It starts with a rematch at home against Seattle on Saturday, followed by two more contests against teams that are below them in the standings. Has Real Salt Lake turned the corner? We’ll find out over the next few weeks.