SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake Coach Jeff Cassar has skirted around the idea that his team absolute has to win this game or that game. As his team prepares to face Montreal on Thursday night, he's not hedging anymore.
“This is a must-win, three-point game,” he told reporters. “We have to start picking up points at home, trying to distance ourselves because it’s a tight race from the sixth place all the way to the second place.”
RSL is standing on 29 points – tied with FC Dallas – but is third in the Western Conference based on total wins as the Texas club has an extra win including a game in hand on RSL. Los Angeles, Colorado and Vancouver are each just two points back with 27. And Portland (24 points) and Chivas (23 points) are both within striking distance of a playoff berth.
Real, which opened the season with a 12-game unbeaten streak (6-0-6), has fallen off the pace and trails Western Conference leader Seattle by nine points.
In its last eight games, RSL has picked up just six points, going 1-4-3 in the process. More alarmingly, the Claret-and-Cobalt have won fewer than half their homes games this season, going 4-1-4 in Rio Tinto season.
Hopes were high that with a stretch of five out of six games at home, RSL could pick up some much-needed points. But that stretch began on Saturday with a disappointing 1-1 tie against Vancouver — not the result RSL was hoping to achieve.
On paper, a game against Montreal is just what the doctor ordered for RSL. The Impact (3-10-5, 14 points) are the worst team in Major League Soccer.
But nobody in the Salt Lake locker room is taking Montreal for granted.
“These are, I think, tougher games than against, say, our premier Western Conference opponents,” defender Nat Borchers told reporters. “I think, especially given our situation and given theirs, their backs are against the wall. They’re a wounded animal and those are really tough games.
“Those guys are playing for jobs. We definitely need points.”
That's a phrase that's echoing around the RSL practice field.
“We’ve got to get points, especially against a team that is struggling at this moment,” Cassar said. “But they have very dangerous players like I said. We have to be conscious of that.”
And he wants his team to be particularly conscious of Montreal forward Marco Di Vaio, who has four goals and two assists in 880 minutes played this season.
“Obviously, Di Vaio doesn’t need much to get a shot off,” he said. “Almost all of his shots are on target.”
On Saturday, Di Vaio scored Montreal's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Crew.
“His goal against Columbus came completely against the run of play,” Cassar said. “Columbus was dominating play, creating chances, not putting any away and they go in at half down 1-0. Credit to Columbus is, they knew they were going to keep creating chances.
“If you keep (Montreal) off the board, chances are you’re going to have a good result against them.”