There was never a question that the first part of the season was going to be a challenge for Real Salt Lake.
If opening the season in a near crisis due to injuries to several key veterans, combined with the task of bringing new faces into the lineup mix and getting them up to speed with the Claret-and-Cobalt's tactical structure weren't enough, adding in the fact that the team would play five of its first seven matches away from Rio Tinto Stadium and it looked to be a portent for disaster.
And yet, that disaster never materialized.
New pieces to the puzzles simply clicked into place, learning new roles on the fly, guided by the craftiness of its veteran core.
Eight matches in, Real sits even with Los Angeles in the No. 2 position on the Western Conference table, as it prepares to face the Galaxy in the second of a three-match homestand in Sandy this weekend, a testament to the team's work ethic and motivation.
"There's some good stuff, but there's obviously some stuff to work on," said Real midfielder Ned Grabavoy after Saturday's win over Chivas USA. "It's still a bit sloppy for my liking, being up 1-0, but at the same time we still created a ton of chances to put the game way."
Grabavoy's assessment of Saturday's match is really Real's season to-date in a nutshell, with the team producing stretches of quality soccer and ball movement, while also having moments of head-scratching inconsistency.
Yet through it all, Salt Lake has still been grinding out results, taking 11 points from those eight matches to keep itself within striking distance of early-conference leader FC Dallas and a sixth consecutive MLS Cup playoff berth.
One of the keys to Salt Lake's ability to navigate the stormy waters of the early part of the season has been the continued improvement of its defensive unit.
"I do (think we're improving defensively) and I still think it's coming together," Real boss Jason Kreis said. "I really felt that there were still too many clear-cut chances against us tonight in the first half. I think there was one or two that were really clear-cut against us; I think that you are ready for that when you're winning a game and its late in the match, but if it's happening in the first half then I think we need to look at it and say 'how can we tighten the ship up a little bit?' "
Thankfully for Real, while it has at times struggled defensively, the Utah side still has veteran Nick Rimando in goal.
Rimando proved once again just how critical he is to Salt Lake's success on Saturday, blocking a first-half penalty. It's the 18th time in 59 career attempts that he's stonewalled a spot kick.
"I kept on second guessing myself on PK's leading up to this one today," Rimando said. "I kind of stuck to my guns and really committed to myself to go to my left. He kind of opened up early and I was there for the save."
And now, just like the team build momentum from that save, Real hopes to use its return home to continue its rise on the table.
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at @jjohnson801 or email him at email@example.com.