Even while dealing with injuries to key players, Real Salt Lake are exceeding expectations ahead of their game against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday in Sandy, Utah.
Much of Salt Lake's early success is indebted to dominance in home matches. RSL (7-4-4, 25 points) are one of three MLS teamsto not lose at home this season. The Utah club has claimed 16 of 18 possible points through its first six matches in the Beehive State, which has propelled RSL to third place in the Western Conference behind Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas.
These successes have come with team captain Damir Kreilach recovering from back surgery and starting goalkeeper David Ochoa having not played a minute because of injuries. Rubio Rubin, Justen Glad and Aaron Herrera have all been sidelined for long stretches as well because of injuries.
Salt Lake has a chance to make a push for the top spot with five of its next seven matches on its home soil. It should give RSL a chance to bounce back from a 2-1 road loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps two weeks ago. Salt Lake had a point in hand until Herrera's rough tackle in the box led to a stoppage-time, game-winning penalty kick from Ryan Gauld.
"Losses force you to reflect, both individually and as a collective," RSL coach Pablo Mastroeni said. "These losses force you to reset, force the concentration to be at the utmost as we get back to work. It's a tough way to end the first part of the season, but we'll bounce back."
San Jose faces a difficult challenge in trying to earn its first road victory of the season. The Earthquakes (3-6-6, 15 points) are winless in seven road matches, gaining just two of a possible 21 points, which has left them only two points ahead of last-place Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference.
The Earthquakes do carry some momentum into their third consecutive road match after earning a 0-0 draw against Nashville SC last week. They won a pair of games in Utah a season ago.
Quakes midfielder Jamiro Monteiro will face Salt Lake for the first time in his MLS career. Monteiro has been a key playmaker on offense, tallying three goals and five assists in 14 appearances this season.
"They're always doing well in the standings, but that will not stop me," Monteiro said of Real Salt Lake. "Every week is a challenge for me and for the team. We're going there with the same mindset, win the game, give everything and work for each other."
San Jose will be bolstered by the return of Marcos Lopez from international team duty. Lopez played with Peru in its FIFA intercontinental playoff qualifier against Australia on Monday and rejoined the Earthquakes for training on Wednesday.
--Field Level Media