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RSL weathers storm in first third of season



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SANDY — Author Haruki Murakami wrote: "Once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in."

The Real Salt Lake home opener on March 5 against Seattle featured a two-hour weather delay due to a hail storm and ended in a 1-0 win for the home team: a fitting microcosm of the first third of the season for the Claret and Cobalt.

RSL has a record of five wins, four draws and three losses through the first 12 matches of the 34-match MLS season, good for fifth place in the Western Conference, despite an opening chapter to 2022 riddled with injuries and adversity.

Team captain Damir Kreilach has missed 10 games with injury so far and nearly half of the starters from last year's playoff run missed significant time to start the season. The team suffered its worst defeat in club history in a 6-0 defeat to New York City FC on April 17 and bowed out of the U.S. Open Cup in its tournament debut against minor league side Hailstorm FC on April 20.

Yet, the Claret and Cobalt are undefeated at home in MLS play and many are taking note of "something special happening in Salt Lake City."

RSL achieved its fifth-straight sell-out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on May 14 against Austin FC: the first time the club has started a season with five consecutive sellouts. The 2-1 victory against Austin — now first in the Western Conference — served as another inspiring metaphor of the season so far for RSL, as well as a sign of what could be ahead of the team.

The home team went down 1-0 in the first half, but immediately turned things around with an equalizing goal in the 55th minute and a game-winner from Andrew Brody, the first goal of his MLS career, in the 88th minute. Brody signed a four-year extension with the team earlier that week after joining the RSL Academy at 16 and playing over 100 matches with the junior Real Monarchs squad.

"It was an emotional win," Brody said of the win over Austin. "We knew we needed to get three points at home in front of our fans. I think we will build on this. The locker room, we're in a good spot right now. I think we're all really competent and we all believe in the system that we're playing."

An emotional win in front of a sold-out crowd. The feel-good story of a long-time academy prospect finally making his mark in the major leagues. Surely a solid foundation to build on for an RSL squad already squarely in the playoff picture.

"The mood of the group has been very, very confident, a group that's full of belief," head coach Pablo Mastroeni said of the week after the Austin win.

Despite a trying start to the season, the biggest tests for RSL still lay ahead of it. First, a trip to the Great White North to take on CF Montreal, currently in third place in the Eastern Conference and winners of six of its last eight matches.

"In order to go to Montreal and get a result, we're going to have to have a really focused performance on both sides of the ball," Mastroeni said. "You can't do it with just defending and you're definitely not going to do it with just attacking. So it's really about concentration, discipline and organization for us."

There is still no timeline for Kreilach's return from a back injury and recent signee Jefferson Savarino is still a couple weeks from his debut, so Mastroeni will have to make do with the squad that got the job done against Austin and has gutted out a winning record despite the adversity in the first 12 games of the season.

"We're ready. I think we're ready for Montreal," Brody said. "Let's go get it."

This is not the same RSL team that entered the storm of a change in ownership and unprecedented roster turnover in the last year. There are new faces in the suites and new faces on the field, but something special was born in the storm, and you get the sense it's only just beginning.

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Caleb Turner covers Real Salt Lake as the team's beat writer for KSL.com, in addition to his role where he oversees the sports team's social media accounts.

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