Real Salt Lake sit tied atop both the Western Conference and the Supporters Shield race in league play ahead of a 5 game road swing. Posting a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo this past Saturday was a great way to bounce back from the beating taken against the LA Galaxy the previous weekend, and to gain some momentum leading into the long road ahead.
You’ve probably heard about the sod being replaced at Rio Tinto Stadium to repair damages done in preparation for the 2013 MLS Cup. If you haven’t, there it is. All new grass, shiny and perfect, will be played on in 7 weeks at the RioT.
This road trip has been looming on the horizon since the schedule was released and sent shivers down spines whenever it was mentioned. To have a road swing of this nature is very rare in MLS and usually only occurs when stadium conflicts arise. Toronto FC has been on the road since the beginning of the 2016 season to accommodate new additions to stands at BMO field; finishing their 8 game road run at 3-3-2.
RSL currently sit at 5-1-2 and have shown themselves capable of earning results on the road, mostly (LA was a fluke). Some positive results over the next 5 games, a continuation of current form, would be the ideal way to spend the next 5 weeks. This season has really been about winning at home and getting gritty on the road. That mantra is about to be tested.
Here’s a brief run-down of who RSL will face over the next 5 weeks.
May 7 - Colorado Rapids - 5-2-2 tied for first in the West
A surprise season thus far from Colorado, many would say the same about RSL, with key additions in the offseason paying huge dividends early on. This is a rivalry game so almost anything could happen. Jermaine Jones has made an impact since joining the team after serving his 6 game suspension, and the battle between he and Kyle Beckerman will be one to watch. This game is probably the biggest test RSL will face during this stretch.
May 14 - Houston Dynamo - 1-5-2 last in the West
Having just played Houston we have seen how dangerous this team can be. Their record doesn’t reflect how good HOU really is. They are creating a lot of chances and have the talent up front to put the hurt on teams if they start figuring out how to finish. Teams in this position are always dangerous and should not be overlooked. Good news, they give up goals at home.
May 21 - Kansas City - 4-4-2
National discussion surrounding SKC right now has them in a ‘skid’ (insert regression reference here). Three losses and and two draws in their last five could be to blame for that perception. Similar to HOU, Kansas City have found just about every way to not score goals. In the draw against LA they took 17 shots and put ONE on goal. Defensively they have been stout and will be tough for RSL to break down.
May 28 - Columbus Crew - 2-4-2
The Crew are a bit of a conundrum. Again, this is a dangerous team that just can’t seem to score. Their loss against the Sounders this past weekend could have gone either way, really, but I don’t think it’s a measure of how bad the Crew are or how good the Sounders might be. That said, CBus are a team that is trying to find itself offensively but has a pretty solid defensive posture that could be hard for RSL to break down.
June 2 - New York City FC - 2-3-4
Not sure if there is a more bipolar team in the league right now, but if there is NYCFC is giving them a run for their money. Incredibly talented going forward and questionable in the back, it seems that first year head coach Patrick Viera has his work cut out for him. The win this past weekend vs a struggling Vancouver was their first win since the opening weekend as they look to string together more similar results.
When you look at the teams we are playing and their current records, there’s a strong possibility that the fear that was evoked by this road trip earlier in the year might have subsided a little at this point. Things may change over the next couple weeks, as a run of form can hinge on result or two or a player returning from injury. That said, RSL have found some wonderful form, are playing well going both directions, and are incredibly efficient in front of goal thus far this season. Creativity is not lacking and there is a grit and determination in the squad that was seemingly non existent in 2015. Youth and experience are working together to make this a very exciting year for Salt Lake.
That said, be wary of this trip.
The road is a difficult place to play, and an even more difficult place to win, in MLS. Jeff Cassar has said repeatedly that the team is taking every game at face value and that the approach is “one game at a time”. That’s the mindset we all need to have as we start the long exodus around the league and back to the RioT. If RSL can continue to get results through this road trip, losing say 1 game, it will be a huge success and is entirely possible. If RSL came back to Rio Tinto on June 18th having earned 10 or more points, what a trip it will have been.