Coming into 2011 Real Salt Lake were riding high as the first MLS team to win a CONCACAF Champions League group, and were building on a regular season that saw them finish just a point shy of the Supporters' Shield. The season started early with CCL quarterfinal action against the Columbus Crew, then Saprissa in the semifinals. Sprinkled in between those matches was the start of the MLS season, and by the time of the second leg of the CCL final against Monterrey, RSL had put together a 4-0-0 start in MLS action.
The heartbreak of losing the CCL final leg at home (their first loss in two years at Rio Tinto Stadium), was followed just days later with their first loss in MLS action and a stretch where they would go just 1-2-2. But that lone win came with a huge cost as Javier Morales was tackled from behind on a reckless challenge that left him with a broken ankle and other injuries that would keep him out of action for 5 months.
RSL would end June and spend all of July playing matches at home. They went 3-1-1 in those matches, but the loss was the final match of that home streak, and then RSL struggled a bit with 4 of 5 on the road in August and they could only manage a 2-3-0 record during that stretch.
The first three weeks of September saw RSL play four matches and they won all those matches, including a big win at Seattle and a big win at the New York Red Bulls. But then the wheels came off.
After beating New York, RSL headed down to DC United and gave up four goals in the first half of the match that included a Dwayne De Rosario hat trick. RSL hasn't looked the same since then, going winless in their last six matches of the regular season (0-4-2).
Now there are lots of reasons, some excuses, but it sure seemed that RSL was dialing it in after securing the post season spot with their win at New York. That they were missing Kyle Beckerman for the last month of the season, working a now recovered Morales back into the lineup, and a were dealing with several other injuries (Will Johnson, Tony Beltran, and Ned Grabavoy) all were factors. Now, RSL will need to get back on one of those highs to make it to the MLS Cup. They proved several times this year that they are able to put together streaks of multiple results and that is just what they will need to do starting on Saturday.
Denzel Eslinger is the managing editor of Real Salt Lake blog RSL Soapbox. Follow him on Twitter at @RSLSoapbox.