This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Jeff Cassar's thousand-yard stare went straight into the camera during his postgame interview Saturday afternoon in suburban Chicago, the bitter Midwest cold at Toyota Park still evident on the face of Real Salt Lake's coach. Asked what needs tinkering after RSL suffered a 2-0 loss to the Chicago Fire, Cassar chuckled.
"I would like the main group to get a run," he said postgame. "Right now, we're already mixing and matching and that's not what you want to do necessarily at this point in the year."
RSL (0-1-1) entered Saturday's first road match of 2017 down its top three center backs and its newly extended Designated Player in Joao Plata (hip contusion). It left Bridgeview, Ill., even more battered, seeing starter Jordan Allen limp off in the 26th minute with a right quadriceps strain. And we're only two weeks into the season.
The injuries are troublesome this early in the schedule, but the main culprit in RSL's drastic decline in 2016 looks to have stuck around in the early going. The attack hasn't generated a goal in 180 minutes this season. For the first time in franchise history, RSL has been shut out in its first two matches.
Dating to the end of last year, RSL has two goals in its past eight regular-season matches. Including the 3-1 first-round playoff loss at L.A., RSL is 0-6-4 in its past 10 outings overall. The last time RSL walked off a field the victors was Aug. 26, 2016, after a 2-1 win over Colorado.
Naturally, more questions arise. Is this start a blip, a coincidence or an ongoing part of an ugly trend?
After managing 17 shots in its scoreless season-opening draw at home against Toronto FC last weekend, RSL had 12 against the Fire on Saturday. Chicago goalkeeper Jorge Bava was forced to make one save. The same issues that hampered last season's high-powered attacking front look to have carried over, even with new faces in the mix.
"We have to put away an opportunity to unlock the game," Cassar said.
RSL has faced a sea of padlocks it hasn't been able to crack.
Forward Yura Movsisyan hasn't capitalized on his chances, but has been the obvious focal point of the opposition's game plan, often with a center back or two pinned to his hip. Plata's hip injury is considered a 7- to 10-day issue, but the 25-year-old Ecuadorian could return for this weekend's home match against the L.A. Galaxy. The severity of Allen's quad strain remains unknown.
New attacking midfielder Albert Rusnák has impressed in flashes, but RSL hasn't been able to get him on the ball in the ideal spots enough in the first two matches to see the 22-year-old Slovakian's true potential impact.
"Of course we missed him, he's an important player,' Rusnák said of Plata. "You know he can score a goal from anywhere or bring something special like that to win, so yeah, it was a miss. But with him or without him, if we give those goals up its always going to be difficult to come back."
In preseason, Movsisyan warned that the attack wouldn't come out of the gates firing. He dismissed the flow and all the goals of preseason. Nothing compares to the start of a new year, and the 29-year-old Armenian striker said RSL must click. How long that'd take is up in the air. Movsisyan said it could be a month or two. Maybe even six.
"But once it clicks," he said, "with the talent we have, we're going to do a lot of damage in this league."
That's what every RSL fan is waiting for. Every RSL player and coach, too.
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L.A. Galaxy at Real Salt Lake
P Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • KMYU