Real Salt Lake Coach isn't happy with his team's performance in a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday night, but he isn't as unhappy as you might think.
“We can't get too down on this," he told reporters. But, “we do have to work on things and get better at things.”
Top of that list after Saturday night is doing a better job preventing counter-attacks after RSL corner kicks. Both of the Timbers' first-half goals came after defensive mistakes; the second left Salt Lake open on a four-on-two break.
“We want to be aggressive, especially at home,” Cassar said. “But those two goals should not happen. They should not happen. It's naive choices."
He added, laughing: "We probably could have made a foul that the referee would have not called."
The coach did not criticize referee Ismail Elfath for his two quick yellow cards on defender Tony Beltran — which left RSL a man down less than 10 minutes into the second half — but he also came to Beltran's defense on the second play.
“Honestly, I've got to look at it again,” Cassar said. “But anytime you're leaving your feet, you're leaving it at the ref's discretion to make a harsh decision. I thought it was harsh, but maybe I'm wrong. I have to see the replay.
“It happened right in front of me, and I thought Tony got the ball. I know it wasn't malicious by him by any means, but it was kind of a weird night with some calls.”
After starting the season unbeaten through their first dozen games (6-0-6), the Claret-and-Cobalt are now winless in their last four (0-2-2). And Saturday's loss to Portland has Salt Lake headed into the league's World Cup break on a down note.
“You don't want to go in with a bad taste in your mouth,” veteran RSL defender Chris Wingert told reporters. “Anytime you lose a game, you'd love to get right back out there and get a win under your belt.”
Then again, RSL aren't really getting much of a break. They travel to Atlanta on Thursday to prepare for a US Open Cup game against NASL side the Atlanta Silverbacks on Saturday.
“Hopefully, we'll do well in Atlanta and move on from there,” Wingert said.
Cassar is already concerned about the long road trip to Atlanta and the prospect of playing a match on turf in high heat and humidity.
But all of that aside, the coach is satisfied with where the club is: second in the Supporters Shield standings behind the Seattle Sounders and in a good position to push for a playoff spot.
“I think we haven't gotten the points that we want,” he said, in reference to the fact that RSL have dropped 10 points this season when, on five different occassions, wins have turned into ties thanks to goals conceded in the 88th minute or later. “You look back at all the games that we could've won and should've won. I think there could be a ton more positives from the season so far, and there are.”
“If you'd said, 'Almost at the halfway [point of the season], you're in second place overall in the league, would you be happy?' I would say 'Yeah, of course,' ” Cassar said.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy is an immediate question mark for RSL. The only player to appear in all 15 of RSL's games this season, he left the Portland game with what the club tentatively called a hip flexor — the latest in a long line of injuries the team has suffered.