Relentless Real Salt Lake Surging Up MLS Western Conference Table

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 12, 2016

Jul 16, 2016; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar gets his team pumped prior to their game against the New England Revolution at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake manager Jeff Cassar admits he uses the word "relentless" a lot when he speaks with his team. 

Although the results have only started to show the relentless nature of the club, the Claret and Cobalt have stuck to their aggressive mindset for the entire Major League Soccer regular season. 

Cassar uses the term because of how many different players in the RSL starting lineup can hurt opponents on a weekly basis. 

“I use the word relentless a lot when speaking with the team, and you can only be relentless when you have depth and when you can start one way and bring players on to keep exactly what we’re trying to do at the beginning of the game and doing it at the end," Cassar told Bleacher Report.  

That approach has been apparent over the last three matches as RSL beat Philadelphia on the road and produced a fine performance against Chicago at home in Week 22. Between those two victories, the club lost to Toronto FC at BMO Field in a midweek match, but despite the defeat, Cassar believes his side played well. 

“I think for the most part of this year, we’ve been playing very good soccer," Cassar said. "We had some very good performances. We paid the price for some errors earlier in the year, but the Philadelphia win was really able to give us belief in what we’re doing and really spur us on."

Jul 22, 2016; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar gets his team pumped prior to their game against the San Jose Earthquakes at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
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"If you rewatch the Toronto game, we had another good performance and on another night, we get three points there," Cassar added. "To be able to regroup with a two-day rest and to be able to put in a good performance against Chicago at home, the group is feeling really good about where we’re at and what we’re doing and how we’re operating and it’s a good feeling to have." 

The reason for the uptick in form is the resurgence of the club's attack led by Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia and 36-year-old midfielder Javier Morales. 

During their rut that started on June 25, the Claret and Cobalt scored just three goals while playing to four draws and two losses. The breakout win in Philadelphia featured fabulous strikes from Plata and Morales as well as Garcia's best performance of the season.

Major League Soccer @MLS

Take a bow, Joao! Plata with the stunning equalizer for @RealSaltLake #PHIvRSL https://t.co/QMZVZ06hge

"I think the teams in our league have to respect our ability in the attack," Cassar said. "When you talk about Yura Movsisyan, Olmes (Garcia), Joao (Plata), Juan Martinez, Javier (Morales), Jordan Allen and then young talents like Omar Holness.

"And then on top of that, how we’re bringing in our outside backs, Tony Beltran and Demar Phillips, into the attack, and then adding a midfielder into attack. I think they have to respect what we’re capable of, and what I really like with this group is if teams try to take one thing away from us, then we’re going to beat you a different way and we have the talent to do that." 

Along with Morales, fellow veteran Nick Rimando, 37, has brought the necessary leadership to the squad as they not only surge up the table, but try to erase the memories of a poor 2015 season in which they finished ninth in the Western Conference with 41 points

Aug 6, 2016; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales (11) congratulates goalkeeper Nick Rimando (18) following their 3-1 victory over the Chicago Fire at Rio Tinto Stadium. Rimando became the career leader in all-time wins for an MLS goal
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

RSL already have 37 points through 24 matches in 2016. Cassar attributes the turnaround to a challenge he received from the front office and himself after the tumultuous 2015. 

“It definitely motivated myself, the staff and our team," he said. "Obviously there had to be a lot of looking in the mirror to start and obviously that starts with me. It needed to be where I could improve and help the team more where I could be a better communicator, better leader, better tactician with our group, with our staff.

"Our general manager, president and owner challenged myself and the staff a lot and I think that was very helpful to myself and the staff getting better in areas we needed to, which then in turn helps the players more.

"I think this year everyone is more familiar, more confident in the formation and with their responsibilities in the formation. On top of that, let’s be fair, we’ve added some very, very good players to our team. And we’ve managed to stay healthy, which is essential in MLS." 

RSL added Movsisyan in the offseason and Martinez during the 2015 summer window. One of the biggest additions to the squad has come in defense as academy product Justen Glad, 19, has thrived at center-back alongside Aaron Maund. Glad is playing himself onto the United States men's national team radar. 

“I think he’s improving each and every day," Cassar said. "I’m never one to say what his ceiling is. That is completely up to Justen, but in every situation and every team he’s played for, he’s come through.

Jul 9, 2016; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad (15) passes the ball during the first half against the Montreal Impact at Rio Tinto Stadium. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

"Whether it’s when he was with our academy team when they were winning national championships or when he’d come up for reserve games years ago. He always stepped up to the challenge and now that he’s with the first team and the under-20 national team, and every time he gets opportunities, he performs at an extremely high level." 

The next challenge ahead for RSL comes on Sunday as they make a rare appearance in the national spotlight against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. Although more eyes will be on the club than usual, RSL are just focusing on bettering themselves game by game. 

“To be fair, we really just try to go about our business and do it in the way Real Salt Lake does," Cassar said. "We want to come out and be aggressive whether we’re home or away. We want to stick hard to our game plan and belief in how we want to play against teams.  We want to do that whether we’re home or away.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

"I think you can look back on this year and I think we have the second most away wins in the entire league and we’re undefeated at home right now. We have an aggressive mindset in our style of play and we believe we can go anywhere and get the result we want." 

That aggressive mindset will be key for RSL heading into the closing stages of the regular season as the Western Conference presents a new challenge every week. 

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves," Cassar said. "We have to make sure we’re concentrating on ourselves. How we can improve each week and also focusing on the opponent ahead of us.

"If we start watching the tables too much, then our focus isn't where it should be. We need to just concentrate on ourselves and the rest will take care of itself." 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.


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