Real wants to get back on track

By By Jon Gilbert and By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

Come Saturday, the caliber of Real Salt Lake’s competition will be drastically different.

After losing consecutive games to Western Conference leader Houston and Eastern Conference leader D.C. United, Real will take a crack at Toronto FC, the East’s bottom club.

Toronto enters the match suffering a nine-game winless stretch — quite the opposite of RSL’s previous opponent, D.C. United, which extended its unbeaten streak to nine in a 2-1 win over RSL on Wednesday..

Despite the nine-game losing trend, Toronto has an even more frustrating streak.

The first-year club extended its MLS record scoreless-streak to 732 minutes in Dallas on Sept. 8. The infamous record was previously held by RSL, which strained for 557 minutes in 2005 without a goal.

Not helping Toronto in its offensive woes is the absence of striker Jeff Cunningham. The former RSL mate is out with a hernia. He is tied for second on Toronto with three goals scored, one of which sparked Toronto’s victory over Real on July 4 in Salt Lake City. Real dropped that match on a Collin Samuel penalty kick.

With no offense, Toronto FC will be forced to play stringent defense against a renewed RSL attack.

Real has remained dangerous in its last four matches, averaging more than two goals per game.

Putting up strong fights at Houston and at D.C. United, Real proved it can play with top-tier teams. It is confident heading into Toronto.

“We have to look at our group and feel really, really good about what they put into the game,” said RSL head coach Jason Kreis after his club’s 2-1 loss in Washington, D.C.

Keeping composure will be crucial for Alecko Eskandarian against Toronto. The striker has amassed many shots on goal in the midst of RSL’s offensive recuperation, but has not yet scored. Eskandarian’s easiest and most recent squashed attempt came on a penalty kick that would have evened the score Wednesday against D.C. United.

Kreis said he felt that Eskandarian was pushing too hard to gash D.C. United, his other former club.

“I know how badly (Eskandarian) wanted to score,” Kreis said. “That can haunt you a little bit, you want it too bad.”

In its third season, Real is still lacking a playoff appearance. Chicago is currently set to grab the last playoff spot, meaning RSL currently sits 11 points out.

Giving effort throughout the match is key for Real. The club has exhibited scrappy play in its latest success. However, effort alone cannot win matches.

“That’s all it is — effort,” said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. “It doesn’t mean anything unless you get three points or a point.”

Defense has taken a back seat in Real’s quest to reverse its offensive ineptitude.

RSL let opposing players move in the offensive third unmarked against Houston and D.C. United.

“It’s simple: When you’re in the third, you mark up,” Rimando said. “That’s all there is to it.”

Real has fought off its nasty habit of letting teams grab victory late. But the match with D.C. United reminded of past discipline issues.

“We’ve been giving effort all year,” Rimando said. “But we seem always to lose it at the end or give up a silly goal.”

[email protected]

Across the border

RSL hopes to continue Toronto’s struggles