LEHI, Utah – Real Salt Lake were widely applauded during this spring’s CONCACAF Champions League run for playing an attractive – and effective – style of soccer: keeping possession and looking to split open opposing defenses with deft one- or two-touch passing.
Now, with the playoffs looming, they need to get that style back.
“I think that we’re trying,” head coach coach Jason Kreis said. “I don’t feel like we’ve completely changed our style. I don’t feel like we’ve become a direct team that’s focused on trying to score on dead balls. I think we’re attempting to play the way that we like to – attempting to play the way that we want to. I think it can click at any moment and when it does we should be able to roll from there.”
RSL are coming off a 0-0 draw away to the Colorado Rapids, a match in which they did not register a single shot on goal. Coming off a four-game losing streak in which they conceded 12 goals, however, earning a shutout on the road against a potent Rapids offense was a step in the right direction.
“It wasn’t poor defense over those four games from the defenders: It was total team defense,” said midfielder Will Johnson, who had to watch the game against the Rapids while recovering from an ankle injury suffered on international duty with Canada. “There were holes all over the field where we got complacent, and obviously that wasn’t good. And now everybody got back on the same page, and we’re excited with what we did in Colorado, and we’re looking to build on that.”
“What people don’t recognize is that you get to make all those nice passes and movements with the ball based on what you do without it, and how hard you are willing to work to get it back,” Kreis said. “To recover quickly so that you can then spend time with the ball, and that is something this team was built upon from the very beginning.
“That has to be the foundation,” he added. “That amount of commitment and work when we don’t have the ball has to happen every single game, and then, when you do that, you’ll get to spend more time with the ball. That’s when we hope the offensive creativity comes into play.”
Kreis is hopeful that his squad can get that creativity back against Portland, and continue it into the first round of the playoffs as the first-choice midfield begins playing together in earnest for the first time since the early part of the season when they were playing that "RSL brand” of soccer.
And Johnson believes that the group can quickly get on the same page together.
“I think it goes back to having that core group of guys,” Johnson said. “I think it will be our fourth playoff run together. If you can’t do it after four playoff runs, you’re never going to be able to do it.”