The past few games have not been kind to Real Salt Lake, giving up game-winning goals in injury time in back-to-back games against Sporting Kansas City and New York Red Bulls. Over the weekend, a 2-2 draw with Colorado Rapids meant RSL lost the Rocky Mountain Cup for the first time since 2006. And yet, RSL is still top of the league table and hosting a US Open Cup semifinal at Rio Tinto Stadium.
We got in touch with Matt Montgomery of SB Nation's Real Salt Lake blog, RSL Soapbox for some insight into what to expect from the league's top team.
Despite sitting at the top of the table, RSL has not won since July 13 in Dallas. What has been the major factor in the three-game winless streak leading up to the Open Cup semifinal?
You had to remind us of that, didn't you? It's been a bit of a rocky road, and while I hate to point at absences, I'm going to. We've missed Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran for two of those three, and while we generally managed well without them, the trio is essential for more difficult opponents. We did have Rimando and Beckerman back for Saturday's match against Colorado, and nobody is particularly surprised that we looked a bit more solid. Still, we're not there yet. That's frustrating.
But sure, we could talk about missing guys and about continuity. It does play a role. But more pressing a concern is our profligate defending on set pieces. It's been nowhere near good enough. Luckily, I hear you folks are having similar problems.
How have injuries affected Salt Lake in recent games and are there any new absences expected for Wednesday?
Most recently, we lost Javier Morales 20 minutes in to injury against Colorado Rapids. That's not encouraging. I believe it was merely a precautionary measure, but even precautionary measures require there to be a degree of injury, lest he would have stayed on and perhaps we might not have had the problems we did. (We'll never know.) But - yeah, we're saying there's a chance - he could play in the semifinal. I suspect he might need a Hannibal-level restraining device to keep him out. And let's be honest: The match will be much better, much higher-profile if Morales plays - and the corollary is the case for your talented players. Matches of this magnitude deserve to see sides at their best.
But to directly answer your question, the only injury possibility I anticipate right now is Javier Morales. Let's hope not.
RSL's top players are well known across the league but Jason Kreis always seems to find new players to fill in when veterans are injured or leave the club. Who is the most important Salt Lake player for Wednesday's game that isn't a big name?
I guess the first question becomes one about who isn't a big name: Obviously Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are straight out. No surprise there. Does Ned Grabavoy count as a big name? He's been a quality MLS player for some time, but he's really starting to get into the goalscoring motions this year. But if he doesn't count, how about somebody like Olmes Garcia? He's been a fantastic, exciting signing and has the ability to really push a defense. He's also been at the heart of our attack-first defensive strategy, such is his ability to change the dynamic of play. But if even he doesn't count, how about somebody like Luis Gil? He's been a bit poor on the road, but at home, he's been steady and growing stronger every week. Still, he's been talked about for some time. So let's see - somebody under-the-radar? Robbie Findley. I know it sounds strange, but he's been flying under the radar since coming back. His first touch has improved rather massively, he's still very fast, and he's finally starting to get on the same page as his teammates. This bodes well.