Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew have never been the fiercest of rivals — outside of a 2011 CONCACAF Champions League game, it's hard to think of many notable matches in the last five years between the two sides.
That's fine, of course. With the Western Conference so fiercely contested these days, it seems like every other match is a "rivalry match," and every other remaining match has some sort of history or bad blood behind it. It's exhausting.
And that all makes this one a little more — calming, maybe? But it's clearly not that, because, well, let's be honest: Real Salt Lake is in a spot of trouble right now. Players are away with either international duty or injury or suspension or — well, they're just gone. That's difficult for any team to deal with, but it's made more difficult by Real Salt Lake's inability to find anything approaching form.
Instead, we're left with a team that is a little formless and bereft of identifying characteristics. Outside of the key players on the team, it's hard to identify what makes this team unique. That's problematic.
Sure, there's Joao Plata, who's one of the more potent attacking players in the league. And there's Javier Morales, one of the best creative players the league seen. And Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando and — well, you get the idea.
So that's all great. But what's RSL to do now? How do they establish characteristics that make them unique? It's not a single-game thing, certainly. It will take time. And that process is probably very much underway, but it's hard to sometimes catch the vision.
Real Salt Lake is a team that needs to continue laying a foundation. There was one, and it's been chipped away at with league processes that are designed to increase parity across all teams. We've seen the fruit of that.
Wednesday's loss to New York Red Bulls might have stung because of the process it took, but it could also be the start of something bigger. It's not a case of the better team losing — we'd be stretching for positives if we said that — but more that the losing team didn't surrender. Real Salt Lake has been on the wrong side of that too frequently this season. The big losses spoke to a deficit in mentality.
If we're being honest with ourselves, we probably should have expected some of that. Losing important players — hard-working, honest players — makes everything more difficult. It can make for a fragile team. As we've seen, it did. And maybe there are other factors in play — but unless we can actually see those and point at those, we'd be grasping at straws.
Today presents an opportunity to continue down the road toward correcting it. With a young group, it might take time, but the dividends would be rewarding. It'll try our collective patience, and it won't always be fun. In fact, it might well be miserable, but here's the thing — unless RSL tries, it's useless, and we're right back where we were at the beginning of the season: A little lost, a little uncertain, and out of our depth.