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MLS News: D.C. United could test Real Salt Lake in late-season matchup

As Real Salt Lake seek a second-consecutive playoff berth under manager Pablo Mastroeni, they can’t afford to overlook Wayne Rooney’s visiting D.C. United squad on Saturday night in Sandy, Utah.

Salt Lake (11-9-9, 42 points) had a four-match unbeaten run halted last Sunday in a 2-0 defeat at LAFC. That was also the first time in eight matches Salt Lake had been shut out on the road.

That leaves RSL in sixth in the Western Conference and only three points clear of the playoff line ahead of a visit from MLS-worst D.C., which is nonetheless improving since Rooney, the former Manchester United and England great, took charge.

“The one thing that he won’t allow is for people to mail it in or for people to not give 100 percent,” Mastroeni said of Rooney. “And I think that’s been the biggest difference for me, is the way the team is playing with a bunch of confidence.”

That attitude might also describe a Salt Lake side that is in playoff contention even without a star.

Damir Kreilach, the team’s leading scorer in 2021, has been sidelined most of the season with a chronic back issue. Playmaker Albert Rusnak departed for Seattle this offseason in free agency.

Sergio Cordova leads RSL with eight goals. Jefferson Savarino, who returned for a second stint with the club in midseason, has six.

D.C. United (7-17-5, 26 points) have only won twice since the appointment of Rooney, who played a season and a half with D.C. in 2018 and 2019 to end his playing career.

But they’ve become far more competitive, with seven of his nine games in charge decided by a single goal or less. They’ve scored as often as they’ve conceded in their last three (1-1-1).

Rooney felt unfortunate to take a second-consecutive victory last Sunday in former Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke’s first D.C. start, a 0-0 home draw against Colorado. Four days before that, D.C. United upset New York City FC 2-1.

“The positives are we’ve created good chances,” Rooney said after the Colorado draw. “So as I’ve said to the team, we have to really take advantage of that moment and be clinical because the hardest thing to do in the game is to create chances and score. And we created enough chances to win the game and to score.”

–Field Level Media

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