Real Salt Lake knew this week could be a different sort of challenge. Three significant matches starting with back-to-back outings on the road before the FIFA World Cup break could either help validate the 12-game unbeaten start to 2014, or it could be an awakening of sorts.
The stretch started out with a sort of thud.
RSL remains in ideal shape considering its dealt with a slew of injuries and significant national team call-ups with 24 points through 13 matches. But make no mistake: RSL needs its veterans to carry the load over the next few weeks, both in the locker room and on the field.
Alvaro Saborio is out 3-to-4 months, essentially out of the equation until September, maybe even October after successful foot surgery Monday in Salt Lake City. Joao Plata's hamstring acted up again and kept him off the turf Saturday at Seattle. Meeting the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night means it will take village just four days after RSL's first loss of 2014 saw a similarly-undermanned Western Conference rival win 4-0.
"Heads up," said goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. "Move on, leave it in the locker room and get ready for Columbus."
RSL is undermanned in a fairly serious way, and there's no way getting around it. Coach Jeff Cassar said the club has 19 healthy bodies at the moment on a roster of 28. Saborio's out for months, youngster Jordan Allen is out for the year after undergoing season-ending microfracture surgery last week and the club's depth, built through the likes of Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Rich Balchan, Robbie Findley and others who could theoretically be called upon to come up big have been tasked with rehabbing serious injuries or overcoming them this season. Center back Chris Schuler was held out of Saturday's match at Seattle for precautionary reasons due to his history of serious foot injuries.
"Right now, it's about getting our bodies right," Cassar said. "It's about taking care of our bodies to get ready for another game on Wednesday and another game on Saturday."
And who scores? Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia are defintiely familiar with one another in starting roles, yet the goals need to start coming from either of the two. Or both, as was the case with Saborio and Plata (combined 12 goals in 19 matches).
"We just have to make sure the other guys are stepping up as well," midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. "We certainly have to find more goals on set pieces and corner kicks, because we've given a lot of those up and we have to start scoring some of those as well."
Outside of Saborio and Plata, RSL's goal-scorers go as follows: Javier Morales (four), Luke Mulholland (three), Kyle Beckerman (two), Luis Gil (one), Grabavoy (one).
As he usually does, Grabavoy waxed realistic after the 4-0 loss to the Sounders Saturday. He said most players have lost enough games in Major League Soccer to know that overreacting to one loss isn't the ideal approach.
"If we win this game up here, we're still going to have to have a reaction on Wednesday night, and a positive one," he said. "Sometimes it's easier to react to a loss than a big win."
RSL has a chance to change that Wednesday night at Crew Stadium.