Western Conference is Heating Up as the Postseason Draws Near

The last three games have not gone Real Salt Lake’s way.  General Manager Craig Waibel is astutely aware of this point and how it has affected RSL’s place in the Western Conference standings.  However, he also knows that the fall from second to fourth while bringing in just one point of the last nine possible is cause for slight adjustment and not panic at Rio Tinto Stadium.

After coming from behind to earn a draw with the LA Galaxy on a dramatic, stoppage-time equalizer, RSL dropped consecutive 1-0 defeats to the Portland Timbers on the road and Houston Dynamo at home. The home loss to the Dynamo was the first defeat RSL felt at Rio Tinto Stadium this season and caused Waibel to take a second glance not just because of the result, but the way in which it came about.

“The Houston game was a bit concerning.  It was the first time I’ve really see the team come out flat, energy wise,” Waibel said on ESPN 700’s Bill Riley Show on Tuesday.  “Statistically it was completely dominating but this is where paper can lie.  But the one thing that statistics don’t measure is tenacity and on the night we just didn’t have it.”

On Saturday, Real Salt Lake outshot the Dynamo 15-7, completing 85% of its passes and holding over 65% of the game’s possession.  However, with just one shot on goal and an energy level seemingly below what has become the club’s standard, it wasn’t enough to earn a home result against a Houston side stuck in the bottom of the Western Conference.

For a team that has seen dominating stretches and having just come off of a string of three straight matches unbeaten against the top three teams in the Western Conference just two weeks ago, that result and performance was a good reminder of what has made RSL successful this season.  Returning to that mentality while elevating the level of play will be a focus over the final four matches, starting on Saturday against Supporters’ Shield leading FC Dallas.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen it and until it becomes a trend, it’s simply an anomaly.  Hopefully it’s a one-off and we move back into the right mindset,” Waibel said.  “We’ve got four games to put ourselves into the right mindset and performance level to take care of business in the postseason and the first order of business is getting there.”

Real Salt Lake has not yet clinched a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but could take great strides toward that goal on Saturday.  Once the postseason arrives, the carnage that has been the regular season will become a much more focused barrage as the top teams continue to do battle for a spot in the MLS Cup Final on December 10.

“I think the Western Conference Playoffs, regardless of how this all works out, is going to be a lot of fireworks.  The teams in it, for the most part, have the ability to put some balls in the back of the net,” Waibel said.  “It’s going to be exciting in the coming weeks to see how every team handles the final push and final race for these positions.”

To hear Waibel’s full interview, click here.