SANDY, Utah — Saturday's game against Vancouver isn't exactly a must-win match for Real Salt Lake, but it's the start of a must-win six weeks.
The Claret-and-Cobalt, who have won just once in their last seven matches, play five of their next six at home. And the team knows they've got to pick up points — a lot of points — during that stretch.
“There’s definitely added emphasis on points right now given our situation and the fact that we haven’t gotten as many points as we wanted to in the last five or six games,” defender Nat Borchers told reporters.
RSL has gotten just five points of a possible 21 in its last seven MLS matches. And it was eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup competition by lower-division Atlanta in the midst of that.
“I think when you’re a stretch like this, it’s just so important not to — especially the heat, given the summer conditions — stay injury-free to make sure you’re doing all the right things on and off the field and really focusing on the homestand,” Borchers said.
Still, there's optimism in the RSL camp.
“This is a time where you can really start to gain some momentum, pick up some points in a hurry,” he said. “They’re going to be tough games, but especially with Vancouver playing mid-week, it’s a game where we’re going to have to come out with a lot of energy and passion and with our home crowd behind us, it should be a nice night for us.”
Better than the last time the two teams met in Rio Tinto Stadium, he's hoping. Back on April 26, RSL blew a 2-0 lead by giving up 86th- and 94th-minute goals to the Whitecaps, costing Real two precious points in the standings.
“I think you always learn lessons from your opponents, especially when you get to play them three times in a year,” said Borchers. “Getting to play Vancouver again at home, we learned a couple things about them. They really took it to us in that second half of that game, and we’re going to have to really be aware of their front five, very talented attacking type of players and we’re going to have to punish them when they commit numbers forward.”
As for RSL, the team has to be focused on putting the ball in the net.
RSL hasn't scored a goal from the run of play since the 23rd minute of a June 7 loss to Portland. The team scored twice to beat New England on July 4, but both goals came on penalty kicks. They're currently riding a 337-minute stretch without a goal from the field.
“To be fair, it’s been a weird season up top with injuries,” said Cassar. “It’s been tough to get a flow. Robbie (Findley) didn’t have a preseason, Devon (Sandoval) didn’t have a preseason.”
And Alvaro Saborio, who has appeared in only 10 of RSL's 18 games, will miss another 2-3 months after breaking a bone in his foot.
“Obviously when Sabo goes out, you’re losing your all-time leading scorer,” Cassar said. “And I really am proud of our forwards because it’s not easy. Myself and the coaches, we need to get them into kind of a flow, into a structure where they start to feel more comfortable. Now that everyone’s kind of getting healthier, hopefully we can do that.”