SANDY, Utah – After winning the MLS Cup in surprising fashion in 2009, Real Salt Lake have garnered attention again in 2010 for boasting the steadiest and most prolific offense in the league.
But as the defending champs head down the home stretch – starting with Thursday night’s crucial tilt against Seattle at Qwest Field – head coach Jason Kreis is focused just as much on his accomplished defense, which hardly gets the credit it deserves.
“We play really nice soccer – it’s fun to watch, but what a lot of people don’t know is how much pride we take in our defending,” Kreis said after RSL’s 1-0 win over the Red Bulls last Saturday, the team’s second straight shutout and 11th overall this season.
While they grab the headlines by leading the league with 37 goals scored this season (LA are second with 33), the defending champs also have allowed just 16 goals this season, the fewest in the league. They’re on pace to break the Houston Dynamo’s record of 23 goals allowed in 2007, good enough for a .76 goals-against average for one season.
[inline_node:316397]Goalkeeper Nick Rimando – who has been the backstop for all but one game this season – heads to Seattle with a .68 GAA this season, a mark easily better than his career best of 1.00 GAA back in 2004 with D.C. United.
That stat, of course, doesn’t include the team’s 5-4 loss to Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League on Aug. 25, a point not lost on the RSL veteran.
“You try not to think about it because certain things can go wrong," Rimando said, "just like that example in Mexico, and you can have 5 goals scored against you and boom – the stats don’t mean anything anymore."
Teammate Andy Williams feels the tone for the team’s defensive effort was set early on this season by the coaching staff.
“Day one in preseason, that’s the first thing we did for the first three days is defensive work,” Williams said. “We didn’t touch a ball or do anything attacking until day three, so it starts off with that.
"If you work hard on defense, and get turnovers, you’ll create chances on the other end. If they can’t score, they won’t win"
Added Rimando: "We’ve got the players that want to play defense, that want to contribute to the team, and that’s why we’ve got the team records right now."