With nearly a third of the season committed the books, Real Salt Lake still reads like a mystery novel.
One minute, the team clearly looks the part of a legitimate Major League Soccer Cup playoff contender, but the next it's quite apparent that there are indeed soft spots in the Utah side's armor.
The last three weekends have run a gamut of good, bad and ugly for Salt Lake, despite the fact that it has taken the full three points from two of the affairs.
"I was pleased, tactically, that we had the ball on their half of the field. I thought we made some right tactical choices there, but we weren't clean enough with the ball," said Real boss Jason Kreis after watching his side score twice in the second half to defeat Vancouver on Saturday. "I felt that we got better and better as the game went on, and I have to feel good about that. That's what we want -- we are a team that is capable of improving during a match, and calm enough to do so."
The ability to improve, to identify problems and take steps to correct them, is perhaps the strongest argument in Real's favor.
Salt Lake is clearly a better team right now than it was even just a few weeks ago, as early-season injuries to its front line have forced several newer, younger players such as rookie draft pick Devon Sandoval, Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia to step up and play what is perhaps an bigger role than what would be anticipated at this juncture of the season.
Plata has made a significant splash on the stat sheet as the 21-year-old Ecuadorian international leads Major League Soccer in assists with four, including both on Saturday.
"In the first half, he was pretty darn rusty -- gave away a lot of balls," said Kreis of Plata. "In the second half, things opened up - I thought he made a lot better decisions with the ball. We had a chat at halftime about how important it was to us. In the first half, he and Devon started off pretty rough in the match, but got better as the game wore on."
On the flip side, Salt Lake has clearly not put together a consistent and focused effort for 90 minutes in any of its 10 matches this year. Undoubtedly some of that comes from juggling the playing rotation from injuries, but some of it, perhaps most disturbingly, has come during moments when the team was at its healthiest and playing fairly close to a First Choice XI.
"I want us to be miserable when we lose, and we should be happy when we win," Kreis said. "We should feel good about it -- not too good about it -- be we should feel good about it, at least for overnight. For me, it was very good, but we need to build off of it -- there's still room for improvement, and we're going to need improvement if we're going to get results in the next two matches on the road."
And most importantly, it's going to take continued improvement and improved focus for that forward progress to continue.
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.