Real Salt Lake has a secret.
It's not a well-kept one either.
With more than 80 percent of the season in the books, it has made the difference for the Claret-and-Cobalt as they come down the stretch run of the season.
Instead of just showing up every day to work, this team has just been able to enjoy playing.
"I think, typically, in the middle of the season in June or July or August, you get to that point where you're so far away from the beginning of the season, when there's all the hoopla and energy that goes into the beginning of the season. It does get to feeling like a grind, it's extremely hot everywhere you go -- all those things can factor in to make things difficult and make the energy level pretty low," Real boss Jason Kreis said.
"Having said that, we got through that pretty well this year. In prior years, we've had really, really bad dips. This year, it was a small dip, and I think a factor in that is how many players we were missing at that time, as well. Now, we're back at it. We're towards the end of the season and we've got three trophies to win, so I think our guys are up for it. The final point is that this is a team that's tighter than any team I've ever been a part of -- any team I've ever been a part of, playing or coaching. Fantastically together."
And it has shown, not just in the results and goals, but in the play on the field and in the attitudes of the players and technical staff.
A season ago, as the year was winding down, RSL hit a wall. The goals were gone, the joy was gone and it became a slog to a disappointing finish line as Real failed to score in any of its final five contests of the season.
As this season winds down, Salt Lake finds itself in the pole position not just in the Western Conference, but for the Supporter's Shield -- given annually to the team with the most points at the end of the year.
More importantly, it finds itself in a refreshed and hungry state of mind.
The play is getting crisper, the goals are coming at a shocking pace -- RSL has scored 13 times in its last four matches and eight times in its last two, including dropping four on one of its chief Western Conference competitors on Friday night.
And if the team needed any more time to refresh itself mentally, it draws an off week this week, getting two weeks to prepare for a key road clash with red-hot Seattle on Sept. 13 at CenturyLink Field.
"We have had similar opportunities a lot of times this year. Obviously, we are at the top of the table now, but we were in some good positions there to put a little bit of space between ourselves and a few of the other teams," RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. "So it was good to finally do that because in some other situations we haven't cashed in on that opportunity."
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.