Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Saucedo, right, challenges Seattle Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam during the second half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, May 26, 2018, in Seattle. Real Salt Lake won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
SANDY — If the first third of the MLS season is any indicator, Real Salt Lake is going to be living on the playoff bubble throughout the 2018 season.
Winners of four straight at home, RSL has proven it can collect the majority of points at Rio Tinto Stadium. Conversely, with its well-documented road struggles, it has also proven away points are going to be very difficult to come by.
That’s why last weekend’s win at Seattle was so important.
Theoretically a team could win all its home games and lose at its road games and still make the playoffs, but that’s completely unrealistic. Stealing road points will always be the best way to avoid a playoff bubble bursting.
Real Salt Lake did that last weekend with its first road win of the season, but Mike Petke said his players can’t afford to pat themselves on the back too much heading into Wednesday’s match against visiting Houston (7:30 p.m., KMYU).
“That was a huge result for us, but it means nothing if we don’t get a result tomorrow night,” Petke said following Tuesday’s practice.
More broadly, it won’t mean as much without backing it up with a strong homestand.
Real Salt Lake just wrapped up a stretch of four of five games on the road, and prior to the Seattle win it had been tough sledding with multi-goal losses in the other three road games.
Now RSL heads into a stretch with three of its next four games at home. Backing up the rare road win at Seattle with maximum points at home over the next month should lead to a big push up the Western Conference standings.
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The grass is always greener on the other side isn’t just a saying if your neighbor’s lawn is actually greener…
That’s particularly the case on Wednesday against Houston, which sits two points ahead of RSL in the standings.
“It’s always big when we play these other Western Conference teams just ’cause you’re not only getting points, but you’re keeping other teams from going up in the standings,” said defender Justen Glad.
Real Salt Lake earned just its third shutout of the season last weekend in Seattle, but that was against the lowest-scoring team in MLS. This week it faces a Houston team that’s tied for the most goals scoring in MLS with 26.
Petke said the same type of effort that led to the win in Seattle is the same approach required every game, home or away.
“It wasn’t a trick, it wasn’t head scratching how we got a result, guys committed every single one of them to the game plan, to getting in shape and then doing their thing out of that,” said Petke.
Real Salt Lake will be without midfielder playmaker Albert Rusnak this week as he’s away with the Slovakian National Team for a pair of friendlies. Without him, Petke said players like Damir Kreilach, Luis Silva, Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata are all replacement options at attacking midfield.
“Albert has quality that is going to be missed, but whoever steps into that role has big shoes to fill, but they know that and they’ll have the quality as well that we’ll play off of,” said Petke.
Following Wednesday’s game, RSL has another quick turnaround with a home game against Seattle on Saturday, so expect more lineup shuffling this week as Petke tries to get as many fresh legs on the field as possible.