Luck deserting Real Salt Lake

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

Real Salt Lake had a heck of a lot of things go its way late last season.

With one week left to go in the season, it needed to win and get a lot of help in order to snatch the final playoff spot in MLS. Check.

In the playoffs, it won over Chicago in a penalty shootout. It won the MLS Cup in the same fashion, defeating Los Angeles in kicks.

So, in 2010, Lady Luck is getting some payback.

RSL, which plays host to Toronto FC on Saturday night (9 p.m. Sportsnet), has won just one of its first five games. The Royals have hit posts, and they have had calls go against them. Last week, in a 1-0 loss to Columbus at Crew Stadium, Canadian Will Johnson had a goal ruled out, and he later heard that even Crew goalie Will Hesmer wondered why the ref disallowed the goal.

"It's been a joke, that's the best way to put it," said the Toronto-born Johnson, 23. "There have been straight up bad calls and missed calls."

And only one of the team's first five games has been played in its Rio Tinto Stadium home, where the altitude ruins the visiting teams' legs.

"We have played at Los Angeles, Houston, Columbus," Johnson said. "Those are three of the toughest road games in MLS. Ask me at the end of the season if it's a good thing to get those games out of the way early in the schedule. It is frustrating not to get any points out of those games, but I am sure at some point we'll be glad to have got all of those games out of the way."

"That's what's keeping our heads up," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "We've actually been playing pretty well, but everything that is outside of our control is going against us."

Nobody expects RSL to be contending for last place in the West for much longer. After all, with Beckerman and the 2008 MVP nominee Javier Morales pulling the strings, it's harder to find a better central midfield in MLS.

"I'll pick our midfield over any in the league," said Beckerman, who will be squaring off against TFC's Julian de Guzman in the middle of the park in what promises to be a fascinating head-to-head battle. "We feel the midfield is the strength of our team."

And Johnson, who can play as a forward or on the wing, has found a home in Utah after struggling to find playing time in the Dutch League. Johnson made the decision late in 2008 to return to North America, and has been a starter for RSL ever since.

"I've really enjoyed it," Johnson said. "I found a home here. I've had a lot of success. I think I have started every game since I've been here. And that's what I wanted. I had other offers to stay in Europe but I chose to come back to MLS because I wanted to play. For someone like me, who is 23, it's really important to be in that starting lineup."

Being a regular keeps Johnson high on the priority list of Canadian national team coach Stephen Hart. And, when TFC comes to Salt Lake City, Johnson gets to reacquaint himself with some of his national teammates, like Dwayne De Rosario and de Guzman.

Even though TFC is going to play its fourth game in less than two weeks, and the team will be beat up after its nasty Nutrilite Canadian Championship tilt Wednesday with Montreal, Johnson said RSL can't be overconfident.

"You can't read too much into it. They are going to come into our stadium and put up a real fight."

TFC does get a break because RSL striker Fabian Espindola and Chris Wingert, the team's top defender, are listed as doubtful for Saturday because of injuries.

But Salt Lake got hit with a Rocky Mountain snowstorm on Thursday, and temperatures have dropped. While the weather is expected to be dry Saturday, it also is expected to be bitterly cold.


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