[MLS: Playoff Push] Once again among the championship contenders, Real Salt Lake heads into the final part of the season atop the overall standings with 41 points yet embroiled in a tight playoff race.
REAL SALT LAKE:
THE STORY SO FAR.RSL has adjusted well to the offseason departures of Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave (to New York) and Will Johnson(Portland). RSL reeled off a four-game win streak in June, one of only three such runs in the league this season.
RECENT MOVES.Coach Jason Kreis tweaked his usual diamond-midfield formation and went with a 4-3-3 system in a 1-0 defeat of Houston a week ago, but returned to the traditional diamond in the 4-2 loss to the Galaxy last weekend. Last month, RSL traded two draft picks to obtain defender Brandon McDonaldfrom D.C. United, and signed forward Benji Lopezas a Homegrown Player. Kreis and owner Dell Loy Hansen have been discussing a new contract.
STYLE POINTS. Youngster Olmes Garcia (20) and former Toronto FC attacker Joao Plata have taken to the RSL slick, technical approach. Veterans Alvaro Saborio (nine goals) andJavier Morales (eight assists) are the team leaders in those departments; Garcia (five goals) and Plata (six assists) are contributing. Robbie Findley (six goals) offers a speed threat. Midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy drive a functional yet creative midfield, and Nick Rimando is still top-notch in the nets.
NEEDS WORK. Robbie Keane, who lit up RSL with a hat trick last Saturday, can make any defender look ponderous, but there are recovery issues when centerbacks Nat Borchers and Carlos Salcedo or Chris Schuler are stretched apart. Late-game collapses like the one at New York (goals conceded in the 89th and 94th minute) aren’t typical of RSL teams.
FINAL ANSWER. All five playoff spots and the conference title are up for grabs, so does RSL smack down an upstart like Portland, which it plays three times starting Wednesday, or succumb to pressure with a less experienced squad?
August 21: @Portland
August 24: Columbus
August 30: Portland
September 13: @Seattle
September 21: San Jose
September 28: @Vancouver
October 1: D.C. United (Open Cup final)
October 5: FC Dallas
October 19: @Portland
October 23: Chivas USA
Playoff Push Series: