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Sandy • For reasons unknown and quite puzzling, an emerging theme to this season has been the blowing of the whistle and the pointing to the spot. Penalty kicks have gone viral in Major League Soccer in 2014. Through 180 league matches entering this week, 88 penalty kick calls have been awarded, per Ben Jata, analyst at Opta Sports.

That mark well surpasses the last three MLS seasons at their finish. In 2013, 81 penalties were whistled in 323 matches. In 2012, 72 were awarded in 323 matches and in 2011, 84 were called in 306 outings. In Real Salt Lake's corner, the penalties have been rampant thus far. Thirteen penalty-kick calls have been awarded in 19 RSL matches, seven against and six in favor of RSL. That's about 68 percent of the club's matches with a PK call in there somewhere.

So on the heels of yet another controversial pointing to the spot Saturday against Vancouver — this time defender Nat Borchers was whistled for a foul on Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks —┬áit's becoming more evident that penalty kicks are a development of the MLS this season.

"The referees are more apt this year to call more penalties," Borchers said. "As a defender, you have to think twice in the box especially, and especially after what happened to me on Saturday. You have to be a little more thoughtful about making challenges in the box, for sure."

With 15 league matches remaining, there's no telling what the end number of penalty kick calls bloats to, but RSL coach Jeff Cassar said his side must eliminate giving referees any room to make those calls on the defensive end.

"A lot of times, it comes down defensively to discipline," he said. "If a team is going to beat us and break us down, more power to them, but let's not gift anything."

Worst MLS team rolls into town Saturday

The worst team in MLS rolls into Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday night. The Montreal Impact (3-10-5) have a league-low 14 points in 18 matches. Cassar didn't mince words after training Tuesday, calling it a "must-win, three-point game." The Impact have the second-worst goal differential in MLS at minus-13, behind the Houston Dynamo. RSL knows about the dangers of Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney, but knows it needs a win at home.

"These are, I think, tougher games than against, say, our premier Western Conference opponents," Borchers said. "I think especially given our situation and given theirs, their backs are against the wall, they're a wounded animal, and those are really tough games."

Saborio still sidelined

The days will crawl. RSL badly needs its all-time leading scorer back as it hopes to turn the tide and make a strong run in the dog days of summer, but Alvaro Saborio remains unable to put weight on his broken foot. The Costa Rica star remains in a boot as his foot fracture suffered on May 29 continues to heal. —

Montreal at RSL

P Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV • CW30

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