RSL Cup blog taking a long much needed break

I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996.

However, over the past couple of years, and especially the last several months, I've began to see the ugly underbelly of this sport. Most likely it has always been there and I was just too naïve to see it, but I cannot not see it anymore.

I'm taking a much needed break from the sport of soccer. I may or may not be back. I may or may not update this blog, I don't know. It would be a shame since I've had it up and running for almost 10 years, but the fun I once had just isn't there any more.

Hopefully you fare better.

Monday, November 29, 2010

RSL's 2006 US Open Cup

Date - July 11th, 2006
Round - 3rd
Opponent - Virginia Beach Mariners
Stadium - Rice Eccles Stadium
Score - RSL 2 - Virginia Beach Mariners 1

-Long scoreless streak ends for Real, kind of

(by Michael Black 7-12-06)

Real Salt Lake may have struggled to a 2-1 overtime victory over the Virginia Beach Mariners, but besides simply getting the result, Salt Lake was able to finally put the ball in the goal.

Jeff Cunningham's penalty-kick goal in the 28th minute broke a 272-minute scoreless streak for RSL. After being shut out in its previous two games, the team had failed to find the back of the net since the 25th minute of its game at Chicago. However, the goal does not count toward the MLS stats, and the team is still moving toward its own dubious record of scoreless minutes of 557 in league play.

Besides breaking out of a team scoreless streak, Andy Williams' tally in the 93rd minute from 25 yards was last season's MVP's first goal of the season. Although he had several near-misses, including a shot that bounced off the crossbar Saturday at the Galaxy, Williams had played 649 minutes of soccer this season without scoring before the breakthrough.

"A great goal by Andy . . . We knew we just needed one, and Andy took care of that," said Ellinger of Williams goal in overtime.

LIGHTNING STRIKES: For the second time this year, Real faced a delay for lightning. In the 61st minute, the referees deemed it too dangerous to continue. Once the decision was made, a mandatory 30-minute delay was enforced, and it was 36 minutes before play resumed. Last month the team experienced a 58-minute delay in Chicago and came out flat, giving up two goals. This time Real reacted differently.

"We really just addressed the focus issue," Ellinger said of what the team did in the locker room during the break.

LET'S PLAY MORE: RSL has twice played in the Lamar Hunt Open Cup, and twice it has gone to overtime. Major League Soccer does not play overtime during the regular season, so the two appearances in the cup are the only two overtime games in franchise history. Real evened its overtime record at 1-1 with the 2-1 win. Last season the team succumbed to Minnesota, giving up two goals in the extra stanza to lose 4-6.

-Williams keeps RSL from embarrassment

(by James Edwards 7-12-06)

These days, nothing comes easy for Real Salt Lake on the pitch or in the political world.

Nonetheless, on a day in which RSL's stadium hopes took a major blow, Andy Williams made sure the team didn't suffer through an embarrassing loss as well.

The MLS veteran, who's seen a significant drop in playing time the past two months, scored on a magnificent 25-yard strike early in overtime to help RSL hold off the Virginia Beach Mariners, 2-1, in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.

"That's what I said to them before the overtime started," said RSL coach John Ellinger. "Turn this moment right now into a catalyst for the rest of the season, and hopefully it does."

With the victory, Real advances to the fourth round, where it will host the Colorado Rapids on Aug. 2. It was a result that should've been much easier against the United Soccer League's First Division club, but MLS teams often find life difficult against lower division teams in the single elimination tournament.

In the third round of last year's U.S. Open Cup, RSL dropped a 6-4 overtime game at the Minnesota Thunder — another USL First Division club. A Jason Kreis hat trick was wasted in that game as Minnesota scored an equalizer in the 89th minute, and then scored two more goals in the 30-minute overtime.

"Last year we lost in overtime, and it was kind of like the rest of the season it hung over our heads every time there was an Open Cup date," said Ellinger.

This time around, RSL learned its lesson about overtime, and lightning delays.

Tuesday's game was halted for 36 minutes in the second half because of a lightning delay. Two weeks ago, when lightning delayed its game at Chicago, Real came out and squandered its 1-0 lead by surrendering two goals the final 10 minutes and lost 2-1.

During the delay, Ellinger reminded his players to stay focused and learn from the mistakes made in Chicago.

Real dominated following the storm, but once again, it continued to struggle with its finishing. In the 89th minute, second-half substitute Mehdi Ballouchy banged an empty-net shot off the left post following a fantastic dribbling run and then cross by fellow substitute Ryan Johnson.

"There's something about the six-yard box and our finishing, other than that I thought we defended well and minimized our mistakes in the second half and kept our focus," said Ellinger.

It didn't take Williams long to avenge Ballouchy's miss.

In the third minute of the 30-minute overtime, Ballouchy laid a free kick off to Williams near the top of the box, and he unleashed a powerful shot that diving Virginia Beach keeper Matt Nelson had no chance of saving.

With a league match at New England this Friday, Ellinger started only four of his regular starting 11. Seven of the 11, however, have started at least one game this year. Regardless of who was on the field for Salt Lake, Virginia Beach didn't seem the least bit intimidated against the upper division MLS club.

After dodging several Mariners' scoring opportunities in the opening 20 minutes, RSL settled down and eventually took the lead in the 27th minute on a Jeff Cunningham penalty kick. Jamie Watson earned the penalty when he was tackled in the box by the Mariners' Alan Woods, less than a minute after Watson had a breakaway shot saved by keeper Matthew Nelson.

The goal snapped a 272-minute scoreless streak for RSL, which sits in last place in the MLS Western Conference with a 3-9-4 record.

It was a short-lived lead. In the 37th minute RSL defender Kevin Novak misplayed a long ball by Woods, enabling Virginia Beach midfielder Tim O'Neill to slip in behind him and bury a shot past Jay Nolly just inside the right post.

"If they get a goal, they believe they can play and they try and make a statement," said Ellinger. "They played well, my hats off to them. They battled all the way to the end."


Date - August 2nd
Round - 4th
Opponent - Colorado Rapids
Stadium - Rice Eccles Stadium
Score - Colorado Rapids 1 - RSL 0

-Another 1-0 home loss for RSL

(by Dan Rasmussen 8-3-06)

On the heels of a huge come-from-behind win over league-leading D.C. United last Saturday, Real Salt Lake hoped to use its fourth-round U.S. Open Cup game against Colorado to build momentum before this weekend's MLS All-Star break.

Didn't happen.

After playing reasonably well during the first half, Real failed to sustain that effort after halftime. Former RSL midfielder Clint Mathis assisted on the game-winning goal in the 61st minute and Colorado hung on for a 1-0 win Wednesday night, knocking Salt Lake out of the U.S. Open Cup.

"Before the game (the state of the team) was OK," said coach John Ellinger. "I don't know what it is now. Obviously, we were frustrated again. The mood with everybody felt we were going to make a go at this competition. I just didn't feel it happened."

The killer blow came in the 61st minute, thanks to solid work by Mathis. After receiving the ball down the right side, he advanced it toward the endline, drawing RSL defenders Willis Forko and Nik Besagno toward him. From there, Mathis perfectly back-heeled the ball into the path of a wide-open Jacob Peterson, who banged the ball into the net.

Mathis made his second appearance in Salt Lake City since being traded from the team last fall.

"It's funny, the guys are always giving me stick here and there" said Mathis, who was subbed out in the 84th minute, "but it's part of the game and it's no worries."

RSL created a handful of chances over the final five minutes, including a first-time effort by sub Joey Worthen that was tipped wide, but it wasn't enough.

Real Salt Lake outshot Colorado 17-8, including a 10-3 advantage in the first half. However, Ellinger didn't feel his squad played that well or that it created enough quality scoring chances.

"In the first half, I thought we got behind them," he said. "But again, where did it go from there? We got in behind them and then did we cross it and get somebody on the end of the cross? Did we lay the ball off for a good, quality chance? I don't think we did that."

Winger Chris Klein played fairly well during the opening 45 minutes to help Salt Lake get behind the defense.

"Very good first half. Definitely thought we had the better of the chances," said Klein. "For whatever reason, we didn't have the same intensity in the second half."

Ellinger tried to get his team to play more through the middle and into wide positions in the second half, but it didn't pay off.

Now the focus will shift back to Real's playoff chase. After the All-Star break, Salt Lake, which is tied for fifth-place, will face Colorado.

"Some ways, sometimes, it could be good to get out of this tournament because you can focus on what we need to focus on right now," said captain Jason Kreis. "We are splitting our thoughts in other places, and it could take away from what we need out of this season."

RSL's 2005 US Open Cup

Date - July 13th, 2005
Round - 3rd
Opponent - Minnesota Thunder
Stadium - Griffin Stadium in St. Paul Minnesota
Score - Minnesota Thunder 6 - RSL 4

-RSL hits rock bottom in loss

(by Al Schoch 7-14-05)

It can't get much worse.

Real Salt Lake's overworked and overmatched defense couldn't hold three one-goal leads, surrendered the tying score in the final minute of regulation, then was blitzed for two overtime goals in a 6-4 loss to the United Soccer League's Minnesota Thunder in a US Open Cup third-round match here.

"Ten years in the league, it's as low as I've ever been," said Jason Kreis, who scored three of Real's four goals, including the one that produced a late 4-3 lead. "Confidence is something that's very cyclical, either you have it or you don't. Right now we don't, and it's spreading like a rampant fire."

Matt Schmidt and Aaron Paye each scored in overtime after Paye's chip shot over goalkeeper Jay Nolly's outstretched hand forced the extra session.

That Schmidt and Paye were in position to score was not surprising. The Thunder had so many scoring chances, it was a miracle they didn't blow out their MLS opponent.

Paye sent the game into overtime in the final minute of regulation, wrestling the ball away from Brian Dunseth and beating Nolly with a high, arching shot.

"When you get in the 80th minute, and you're a Major League Soccer team, you should know how to kill off a game," said Kreis. "We just gave it to them."

The Thunder beat an MLS team for the second straight year in US Open Cup play. Last year, they edged the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 on the same artificial surface as Wednesday night's triumph.

Real was playing in its first-ever US Open Cup game, and remains winless on the road in their inaugural season.

"We showed them we that we've got character, that we can play this game," said Paye.

"We knew we had them back on their heels, they were a little fatigued. We have a bunch of fast guys and kept pressing them. A lot of us should be playing in the MLS," he said.

Real's defense was without injured Rusty Pierce and Paul Broome, while Eddie Pope (US) and Andy Williams (Jamaica) are with their national teams in the US Open Cup. On offense, Real sputtered most of the night, rarely completed two consecutive passes in a possession, and only Kreis' brilliance kept them in the game.

"There's no such thing as a nice game for one player," Kreis said.

The game at Griffin Stadium, a high school facility near St. Paul's downtown, saw RLS break one trend. The first goal by Kreis on a penalty shot came in the ninth minute, the first time all year Real has scored in the first 15 minutes of a match.

But things quickly soured for Real when Minnesota scored twice in a minute to take its first lead.

Melvin Tarley worked his way around Real defender Brian Dunseth, and when Nolley came out, he slid the ball under him into the net for a 1-1 tie. Before anyone knew it, the Thunder went ahead when Johnny Menyonger headed a pass from Jeff Matteo under the crossbar.

It could have been much worse for Salt Lake. Menyonger was by himself just to the left of Nolly, but his head shot trickled harmlessly past the goalpost. Matteo had another golden opportunity when Nolly slipped, but fired his shot wide right.

Minnesota was clearly dominating play when Real took advantage of a defensive lapse to tie the score at 2-2. Jamie Watson picked off a clearing attempt by Brundt, and fired the ball into the lower lefthand corner past Thunder goalkeeper Joe Warren.

"We tended to sit back," said RSL assistant coach Peter Mellor. "That's what cost us the goals, along with defensive individual mistakes. We can't afford to make individual mistakes."

After Kreis scored his second goal for a 3-2 RSL lead, Tarley countered with his second of the night. Kreis gave Salt Lake it final lead with a turnaround shot from point-blank range in the 70th minute before lightning struck for the Thunder.

What next for a team that's given up ten goals in less than a week?

"Good question," said Kreis. "It's going to take a man's effort, it's going to take everybody to decide that they want to be a man."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

RSL 2010 season

RSL 2009 season

RSL 2008 season

RSL 2007 season

RSL 2006 season

RSL 2005 season

4th @ NY Red Bull 0-0 Tie
10th @ LA Galaxy 3-1 Loss
16th Colorado Rapids 1-0 Win
24th @ FC Dallas 3-0 Loss

1st San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Tie
8th @ Chivas USA 1-0 Loss
15th LA Galaxy 2-1 Win
19th Chivas USA 2-0 Win
22nd @ Columbus Crew 2-0 Loss
29th @ Chicago Fire 3-0 Loss

5th FC Dallas 2-0 Loss
12th @ LA Galaxy 1-0 Loss
19th @ San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 Loss
23rd LA Galaxy 1-1 Tie
27th @ Chicago Fire 3-1 Loss

5th New York Red Bulls 2-2 Tie
10th @ Chivas USA 5-1 Loss
17th @ KC Wizards 3-2 Loss
24th FC Dallas 3-0 Win

7th Chivas USA 2-1 Win
11th @ New England Revolution 4-1 Loss
14th KC Wizards 4-2 Loss
21st San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 Loss

1st @ DC United 5-1 Loss
4th New England Revolution 1-0 Loss
18th @ FC Dallas 2-1 Loss
22nd @ Colorado Rapids 2-0 Loss
25th Columbus Crew 2-1 Loss

2nd @ Colorado Rapids 2-1 Loss
6th DC United 3-1 Loss
9th @ San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Tie
13th Colorado Rapids 1-0 Loss

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

MLS final sets ratings low

( 11-23-10)

Colorado's victory over Dallas set a record-low for English-language U.S. television viewers for Major League Soccer's championship game.

The 2-1 win Sunday night received a 0.4 rating and 748,000 viewers on ESPN, Nielsen Media Research said Tuesday. That's down from a 0.7 rating and 1.14 million viewers for Real Salt Lake's win over Los Angeles in 2009.

Since the league started play in 1996, the previous low for viewers was 876,000 for San Jose's win over Chicago in 2003.

This year's game also received a 0.1 rating and 232,000 viewers on Spanish-language Galavision.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 end of year table

2009 end of year table

2008 end of year table

2007 end of year table

2006 end of year table

2005 end of year table

2004 end of year table

2003 end of year table

2002 end of year table

Sporting Kansas City Announced

( 11-17-10)

Sporting Kansas City was unveiled as the new identity of Kansas City’s Major League Soccer club on Wednesday in a historic announcement held at KC Live! at the Power & Light district downtown. The club, formerly known as the Kansas City Wizards, launched the Sporting Kansas City era with more than a thousand supporters in attendance and presented the signature elements of the organization’s new look, including a strategically designed crest, carefully chosen colors and bold new uniforms.

“We acquired our team from the greatest entrepreneur in the history of American Sports,” Sporting Club President Robb Heineman said. “Moving forward, the vision of our brand is to continuously innovate and provide high-performance experiences for our members.”

Mexican icon Omar Bravo, who recently completed his loan to Chivas Guadalajara, attended the launch wearing the team’s new home jersey on stage in his first appearance in Kansas City since signing with the club in August as a Designated Player for the 2011 season.

Sporting Kansas City will enter the 2011 season, the 16th year of Major League Soccer in Kansas City since joining as an inaugural club in 1996, with not just a new name, but also a new $180 million, state-of-the-art stadium currently under construction in Village West in Kansas City, Kansas. The venue, scheduled to open in June 2011, will seat 18,500 soccer fans and features a roof canopy that will cover every section of the stadium. Fans can take a virtual tour of the stadium by visiting

The stadium will be available to host a variety of professional sports and entertainment events, including the potential of hosting the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams, professional boxing and major concerts, and will feature an 1,800 square feet HD video board on the south end and a 250 square feet video board on the north end.

Wednesday’s event, broadcast live on Metro Sports, Sports Radio 810 WHB and through the Reyes Media Group, was the culmination of a long-term process in which the club’s ownership group sought to revolutionize the way a professional sports team connects with their fans and establish a brand that will best represent their vision to bring additional sports properties to the Kansas City market.

“Our mission is to connect Kansas City to the premier professional sports experiences in the Midwest,” Heineman said. “We look forward to sharing more exciting news about future events and to hosting all our great fans in our new home upon its opening in June.”

Sporting Kansas City will continue to embrace and celebrate the history of the club, which won an MLS Cup and Supporters Shield in 2000, and also won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2004. The jersey will continue to don the star above the crest representing the MLS title and the linear history will remain intact going forward under the new name.

The club crest, which will be used as the team’s primary logo effective immediately, is a combination of symbolic elements to reflect the distinct history, culture and geography of Sporting Kansas City, as well as the vision for the organization. The crest pays tribute to the original Wiz shield and its upside-down teardrop shape that introduced the team to Kansas City and serves as a permanent tribute to the tradition of the club. The words “Kansas City” arch across the top of the crest, with their position at the crest’s highest point symbolizing the local ownership group’s commitment to their hometown.

The name Sporting, prominently written inside the shield beneath Kansas City, represents the vision of Sporting Club to integrate additional sports and entertainment properties into the organization, with Sporting Kansas City as the foundation for future enterprises, and transform the way a professional sports team connects with supporters.

“Our goal is to revolutionize the way a professional sports team connects with fans through premier experiences and spaces,” Heineman said. “We believe a change in identify for the club was necessary to effectively live and breathe this vision. The name ‘Sporting’ represents our desire to become a dynamic organization focused on creating opportunities for social, cultural and athletic connections.”

The left side of the crest features 11 diagonal lines, a nod to the starting 11 players of past, present and future that have played for Kansas City, and are comprised of six Sporting Blue lines separated by five Dark Indigo Blue lines between them. The Sporting Blue color will be the primary color for the team and their uniform, previewed at Wednesday’s announcement, and is similar in shade to the original Wiz blue that club founder Lamar Hunt selected as the team’s identifying color for the inaugural season in 1996.

The right edge of the lines forms a shape familiar to all Kansas Citians, signifying the state line between Missouri and Kansas. Sporting Kansas City has roots on both sides of the state line, with the new stadium being built in Kansas City, Kansas and their current offices and training facilities located in Kansas City, Missouri.

Finally, a stylized SC ligature fills the right side of the crest as an iconic image linking the team to its parent organization, Sporting Club, while also drawing inspiration from individual elements: the rod of the Greek god Ascelpius (health and fitness), the Hellenistic statue of Winged Victory (strength and movement) and the Spanish architecture of Kansas City’s renowned Country Club Plaza.


2007 - 2010

1997 - 2006


Kansas City had to change their name after the 96 season due to possible trademark infringement with electronics retailer The Wiz, thank goodness.

League ponders MLS Cup changes

(by Ridge Mahoney 11-22-10)

By the time streamers shot into the sky and fluttered down on Colorado Rapids players, coaches and staff celebrating with the club’s first MLS Cup, the stands are BMO Field in Toronto were mostly empty and the giant, white maple leaf that adorns the center-section seats was barely obscured.

Never before had MLS ventured as far north to stage its grand finale, prompting concerns about weather. Prior to the game Commissioner Don Garber reiterated several times his hope that Toronto FC fans, disgruntled by poor on-field performance and front-office bungling of their team, wouldn’t boycott the event. Had rain come down as forecast, a dreary setting it would have been.

If it wasn’t a perfect storm of adversity, it came close. Pre-selecting a venue months in advance is one facet of league operations under review; as a maturing league ponders how best to market and present its showcase event. With months of lead time , arrangements for transportation, accommodations, ancillary events, etc., are simpler to arrange, but most of the fans at a neutral venue tend to be, well, neutral.

Seattle fans came out in droves last year, despite the disappointing elimination of the first-year Sounders in the conference semifinal, and despite a rather lackluster game between Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles they got a good buzz going at Qwest Field. A wonderfully wild group of a few hundred RSL fans injected the proceedings with their chants and cheers and catcalls aimed at Landycakes, et al.

Some of the BMO faithful Sunday night livened up the mood, and small sections of FCD and Colorado supporters did what they could. It wasn’t a dour occasion by any means yet neither did it fizz.

Proclaimed as a sellout crowd of 21,700, the stands at kickoff were dotted by empty seats. A late Sunday night kickoff (8:55 p.m.) dictated by television, and harsh, windy conditions that included forecasts of rain prompted some fans to stay away. The game itself had its stylish moments, and FC Dallas’ opening goal – a glorious crossfield ball from left back Jair Benitez chested down and crisply served into the goalmouth by Marvin Chavez for league MVP David Ferreira to stab-volley into the net – exuded class.

More common in Colorado's 2-1 win were hard challenges and fearsome collisions: FCD defender George John and Colorado battering-ram Conor Casey clashed heads fiercely not once, but twice. There were more showdowns than show-stoppers, as the rugged Rapids blunted FCD’s creative elements and churned out occasional chances for Casey and others. Overtime kicked off at about 11 p.m., and by then a lot of fans had already fled into the night, braced and bundled against the sharp winds off Lake Ontario buffeting BMO Field.

So goes the risk of staging a late November, cold-weather city championship game, which the league granted to Toronto last March as reward for season after season of consistently full houses. Had TFC been in the final, of course, their rowdy, crazy fans would have come early – camping overnight if permitted to do so -- and stayed late, as they have since the team’s first game in 2007. Their anger over constantly rising ticket prices boiled over earlier this year when promise inspired by the hiring of Preki as head coach deteriorated into another losing season and the dismissal of both Preki – after just 24 games in charge -- and the man who hired him, Mo Johnston.

Commissioner Garber said prior to kickoff he believes the league may be ready to scrap the neutral-site final for a game hosted by the highest surviving seed. The complications imposed by such a switch are onerous -- far less time for fans, sponsors, and teams to schedule their travel plans and broadcast arrangements to be completed, finding hotels and suitable venues for ancillary events, etc., -- but could be mitigated by the raucous, colorful backdrop of home fans cheering and chanting their team to a title.

Yet the home team can lose. The mood might not be all that different with the away team waving and jumping around with a massive piece of silverware. Still, the league could increase the significance of regular-season play by assuring that the higher-seeded team that reaches the final gets to host it. Had that occurred this season, FCD would have hosted Colorado at Pizza Hut Park.

For decades, before the advent of a Super Bowl against the champion of a rival league, the NFL decided its title on the field of a finalist. The sports are vastly different but in no other major American team sport does a title rest on one game. While Garber acknowledges the current MLS playoff format that melds both knockout games (or the conference finals and MLS Cup) and a two-game series (conference semifinals) is somewhat contradictory, he can’t see the benefit of a home-and-away final by which a team could win the title by tying, or even losing, the second game. In the USA, at this stage of the game’s development, that won’t fly.

With the advent of soccer-specific facilities and a growing, passionate core of fans in many cities, Garber believes even with a week's notice, at best, most league teams could pack their venues for a title game. Next season could provide a possible window of opportunity if the league decides to experiment; as the league schedule is currently plotted, the projected date of the final conflicts with a mid-November FIFA international-fixture date.

Since staging its first Super Bowl in 1967, the NFL has used both one-week and two-week windows leading up to the grand finale. If it deems itself ready, MLS could use next season as a test case of a two-week option: determine the two finalists by mid-November, skip the weekend after the FIFA date, and stage its championship a week later in November.

A return to BMO Field next season in such circumstances isn’t likely, as TFC has yet to find replacements for either Johnston or Preki, though it has hired former German international Juergen Klinsmann – spotted in the stands Sunday night – as a consultant. And MLS Cup weather issues have cropped up before: a nor’easter lashed Foxboro Stadium for the inaugural MLS Cup in 1996.

Conditions for a late November finale at Red Bull Arena or PPL Park or a few other venues could be quite crisp, but the weather could be temperate and the scenes could be unforgettable. What if the Sounders were to host the big dance? On the other hand, would MLS and adidas and ESPN want a final at Buck Shaw Stadium? Ouch.

There are plenty of warm-weather options in MLS, but the league does not mandate a host – teams bid for the event and the league chooses the most compelling offer. In a few months, it may decide to give a new format a shot, and present a short-notice host the opportunity to show how far it, and the league, have progressed after 15 seasons.

MLS will expand playoffs to 10 teams

(by Jeff Carlisle 11-22-10)

MLS will begin exploring the possibility of aligning its season with the international calendar, according to commissioner Don Garber.

The announcement was just one of several that the head of MLS made at a news conference before Sunday's MLS Cup final between FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids. Garber also indicated that the league will expand the number of playoff qualifiers to 10, and will play a balanced 34-game schedule next season that will begin in the third week of March. The league's conferences will also remain, although those will change with the addition of expansion sides in Vancouver and Portland next season.

The biggest revelation was related to the league's calendar. MLS currently begins its season in March, plays through the summer months, and concludes with a league championship in November. Such a set-up has often put the league at odds with international fixture dates as well as international tournaments such as the CONCACAF Gold Cup, FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA World Cup. MLS has often played straight through such events, causing many of the league's best players to miss MLS matches.

The league's decision to expand the season to 34 games, when teams are already complaining of fixture congestion because of outside competitions such as the CONCACAF Champions League, highlights the need to look at alternatives.

"We've got to take the steps to figure [the schedule] out," said Garber. "We're going to do a lot of research internally. We're going to take some time to look at people outside of the league who can help us with this research."

Garber refused to put a timetable on when a decision would be reached and said that "nothing is off the table" as far as what format a revamped calendar would take.

As for why MLS has chosen this moment to explore the possibility, the commissioner stated it was down to the growth of the game in North America, although he admitted some serious impediments remain.

"Every day this sport grows and gets more relevant in our markets," said Garber. "As that happens, we're beginning to think that we can push the envelope a little bit further. In our view, it's not so much an issue with fans, but how do you play games in Montreal in February? How do you play them in Salt Lake?"

Although the proposal will likely be greeted positively by the league's fans, Garber is likely to get pushback on the changes to the playoff format. The commissioner indicated that the particulars on the postseason still need to be worked out, but that the bottom four qualifiers, however they might be determined, would participate in play-in games to reduce the field to eight teams. Whether that would be a one-game or two-legged playoff is still to be decided.

What also needs to be sorted out is whether the teams will remain in their conferences, or if they can cross over, as happened this year when the fifth- and sixth-place teams in the Western Conference qualified at the expense of the third- and fourth-place teams in the Eastern Conference because they had higher point totals. While keeping teams in their conferences would simplify things, it would also run the risk that one of the 10 best teams might miss out on the postseason.

"It's a tradeoff," said MLS executive vice president Todd Durbin.

As for why the league is bothering to expand the number of playoff teams at all, Garber stated that having more meaningful games trumped any concerns about possibly reducing the importance of the regular season.

"Counter to what soccer people around the world think about our playoffs, they're the most valuable games that we have," said Garber. "They're the highest-rated and the highest-attended. … So I'm not sure by adding two more teams that it devalues what we're trying to achieve."

The Walsh Cup

(by Michael Lewis 1-5-01)

Breaking Walsh Cup news

The Walsh Cup, a Christmastime tournament that has been held in the backyard of the home of MetroStars midfielder Billy Walsh the past 10 years, probably will move. No, not from the Walsh "estate," but to another time during the year. Walsh will move the date to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
"It was too damn cold, man," Walsh said. "Usually at Christmas time in New Jersey it's usually warm. I don't know why. This year it was just too cold."


(by Michael Lewis 12-18-05)

End of an era: The Walsh Cup is no more

At one time it was an annual rite of soccer during the Christmas, er, holiday season, in the metropolitan area.

Just about every weekend, usually Saturday, before Dec. 25, the Walsh family of Chatham Township, N.J. would invite some of their closest friends and soccer colleagues for a nice a little soccer tournament in their backyard.

The Olsen family, Ben's, not Kate and Ashley, would become regulars, so did the Bradleys, Bob and Michael as well as Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola and Zach Thornton.

They all wanted to compete in the Walsh Cup.

But the yearly competition has run its course.

After 13 years, the Walsh Cup is no more.

There's a good reason.

Billy Walsh's parents have sold their house and moved to Bernardsville, N.J.

"That's too bad," Walsh said in a recent interview. "All the good players came there."

And there's another reason.

"Not many Walshes are left in soccer," he said of his five brothers.

The Walsh Cup cut across sex, age and playing ability. There were 12-year-old girls, veteran college coaches, professional coaches, current players and a couple of former ones as well. Sometimes a few college players who had desk jobs would become the tournament’s star.

A number of other former MetroStars participated at one time or another -- Tim Howard, Mike Ammann, Mike Petke, Miles Joseph, Mark Semioli, Brian Kelly and Damian Silvera certainly come to mind. So did some other MLS players, including 2004 MLS Cup MVP Aleck Eskandarian, Chris Armas and actor Andrew Shue, who played a season (1996) with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Add current Chatham High School players and graduates and a sprinkling of college players and even college coaches (Seton Hall men's coach Manfred Schellscheidt) and the Walsh backyard became the place to be the weekend prior to Christmas, when many of the participants probably should have been shopping for gifts instead of goals.

"You could go watch a professional game, but you don't get to watch them against all these different types of people," Walsh told me several years ago. "You've got your high school players, your youth players, your college players. You can see that [the pros] are people, too. Their personalities come out when they're walking around.

"It makes it possible for guys who are superstars to have a chance. So, everyone is the same in the mud. At the end of the day, it's luck."

More than 500 spectators showed up and sometimes withstood wintry conditions (snow and cold temperatures) during the full-day event.

"You could see the difference between Clint Mathis and the best kid in college," Walsh said. "It was always neat to see how teams adjusted to crappy players."

Asked recently if he has a favorite moment or cup, Walsh replied, "There were just so may of them. They kind of merge right into one thing for me."

Walsh remembered Michael Bradley playing in the competition when he was just a tyke of 10 (Michael is now an old man of 18).

"He never won a game at the Walsh Cup," Walsh said. "Michael was very, very young and he left very, very sad.

"They had a real sweet team. Olsen's brother or Zach Thornton didn't show up. It ruined his Christmas."

Well, maybe for a day or several hours.

The big thing about the competition was to have fun. OK, OK and be competitive and win bragging rights for the next 12 months.

It seemed every other team that had a Walsh on it (well, there were five brothers) or the Olsen's would win it.

"We were around the middle of the pack," Walsh said. "Some people thought I cheated."

The Walsh Cup turned into a big deal during the time of the year in which there was no outdoor soccer (the NCAA championship were completed the week prior and MLS training camp was a good month away). Don DiFrancesco, then the acting governor of the state showed up to flip hamburgers in 2001. FIFA Magazine profiled the one-day tournament, as did FourFourTwo, among other media outlets.

"Alexi Lalas would fly in from where he was at the time just for the cup and then he would fly out afterwards," Walsh said.

"It was fun to watch MLS players lose to high school kids," Walsh said. "It could happen in a two-goal game."

That's because of the unique rules.

It is part outdoor soccer, part indoor soccer, as the teams play in a field that is 20 yards long by 40 yards wide, which is surrounded by a fence. Eight teams play a 5 vs. 5 set-up in games -- without referees.

"It's kind of like MLS. You have no idea what's going on," Lalas once said about the cup. "The rules change as we go along. There are trades and rule changes during the game and after the game. It perfectly approximates MLS."

Because the early round-robin matches were decided by the first team that scored, Walsh remembered when Lalas' team lost only seconds into one match.

"Those are the things you laughed about," he said.

My favorite moments? Well, besides all of the fun stuff that was said off the field, it had to be in the championship games.

In 1998, 12-year-old Pat (Patistuta) Walsh beat Thornton, then MLS goalkeeper of the year for the league champions, for the game-winning goal in the championship match. In 1999 it was Darah Ross, a former University of Pennsylvania player, who scored the vital goal in a 1-0 victory over Ebony and Ivory (that's Semioli's and Thornton's team) in the final.

After Ebony final prevailed, they received the elusive, grand prize, a Walsh Cup champions shirt that proclaimed:

Walsh Cup 10 Champs

The back of the shirt said it all:

Everybody else stinks

These days Walsh is out of professional soccer and has moved into the coaching ranks.

He directed Manhattan College for several years before moving on to Chatham High School.

He plays soccer on Monday nights and runs a bar -- Darkhorse -- in Morristown, N.J. Some current Metros sometimes stop by and talk to Walsh about their favorite sport.

That could be fun. But it is nowhere near the pure unabashed fun and joy of the Walsh Cup.

Hartman shines in playoffs against LA

A great photo of Hartman making a great save against LA to get FC Dallas to MLS Cup.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Phily's 4 uniform combinations

I have a headache too, too much brown

This one I like, very sharp

Not bad, B-


Monday, November 8, 2010

Choose your game: State's fans blessed with sports choices

(by Jamshid Ghazi Askar 11-6-10)

Faced with the chance to attend either this afternoon's Utah-TCU college football game or the NBA contest pitting the Utah Jazz against the L.A. Clippers tonight, Natalie Gochnour never thought twice.

She chose Real Salt Lake soccer.

Despite being a University of Utah alumna and Ute football fan as well as a Jazz season-ticket holder, Gochnour will do her cheering Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Alongside her husband and two teenage children, she'll be pulling for her beloved Real Salt Lake in its Major League Soccer playoff match with FC Dallas. Real is the defending MLS champion and enjoys one of the highest attendance figures in the 16-team league, but if it doesn't win tonight's game against Dallas then its season ends.

"I even have Jazz tickets on Saturday, but this is not a hard choice for me at all," she said. "This is a playoff game that will determine whether we go on. Soccer is the sport I'm most motivated by, so I will use my DVR on the other sports and attend the Real game."

By opting for an RSL match over other more traditional sporting-event options, Gochnour is the local embodiment of a national trend: even in an era of economic uncertainty, MLS is steadily gaining market share in the hypercompetitive world of sports entertainment.

Out of the 13 North American markets boasting both an MLS franchise and an NBA team, the soccer entity is outdrawing its basketball counterpart on a per-game basis in five of those locales (New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston and Toronto.) Take that statistic with a grain of salt, though, because it comes with multiple caveats — not the least of which being that the NBA teams in the five above-referenced metro areas are raking in much more ticket-based revenue than their MLS neighbors by charging higher admission prices and playing more than double the number of home games the soccer teams do. Still, the fact remains that MLS has achieved a level of legitimate competitiveness with the NBA in a very meaningful attendance metric.

The Utah market is no exception. Although the Jazz continue to outdraw Real Salt Lake on a per-game basis, 19,378 to 17,095, Real Salt Lake's average attendance has increased each of the past four seasons and, given the fact that Rio Tinto's 20,159 capacity is larger than EnergySolution Arena's 19,911, it's very possible that Real Salt Lake could soon eclipse the Jazz in terms of average attendance.

Despite the comparable per-game turnouts, RSL's ticket revenue that team president Bill Manning pegs in the $5 million to $7 million range still falls far short of Jazz ticket revenue that a conservative estimate projects between $30 million to $40 million (NBA teams don't discuss ticket numbers.)

Utah Jazz president Randy Rigby associates his team's powerful economic advantage over other sports-entertainment competitors in the state with the fact that on any given night a Jazz game always showcases world-class talent.

"I think our greatest tool is being an NBA team and that we are the NBA franchise," Rigby said. "It truly is the only (highest-level) professional league in this marketplace. This is the premier (league) where basketball is played. Everyone else around the world wants to play in the NBA, and people are seeing the best basketball players play in our arenas."

Before coming to Real Salt Lake, Manning worked for the NBA's Houston Rockets and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. Knowing from firsthand experience that his MLS franchise simply cannot compete with the inherently powerful position occupied by an NBA squad like the Jazz, his strategies for growing the RSL brand center on differentiation.

"I think we've created another option," Manning said. "Having worked in the NFL and having worked in the NBA, I can tell you there are NBA fans who are never going to be soccer fans and there (are) football fans who are never going to be soccer fans — and I'm not going after them.

"There's a big enough marketplace for us, and we've found our own niche."

One advantage for Real Salt Lake is that it plays the first five months of its schedule during football's offseason — because, in many ways, when it's in season, college football rules the roost in the Beehive State. Over the past five years the BYU and Utah football teams have both filled more than 97 percent of their seats and attracted average crowds of 62,231 and 43,620, respectively. To put those figures in perspective, the next-highest average attendance in Utah during the past five years belongs to the Jazz at 19,415.

Natalie Gochnour worked as Gov. Mike Leavitt's spokeswoman, and when Leavitt moved to Washington, D.C., to head the Environmental Protection Agency he brought Gochnour along to be associate administrator for public affairs at EPA.

"I lived in Washington, D.C., during Real's first season," she recalls. "I bought season tickets even though I was a resident of D.C. because I was an early supporter and I was flying back on the weekends and I was still able to get to some games."

Currently she works at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce as vice president for policy and communications. The same brand of mental acuity, focus and passion that fuel her career are also on full display in her Real Salt Lake fandom.

"When I walk into a game I just sit there and marvel at the size of the crowd, the makeup of the crowd, the energy in the crowd," Gochnour said. "To someone who's a soccer devotee it's like a dream come true because it's in our hometown — not everybody has this — and they're a terrific team in a terrific facility. It's actually quite moving to see the type of sport that they have."

However, there is a fine-line limit to the lengths Gochnour will travel to show her support for RSL.

"I've adopted what any good soccer fan should do and so I wear Real-branded shirts," she said. "But I don't paint my face or anything like that. There was a time in my life when I may have done that, but I'm past my prime for that kind of thing."

Real Salt Lake: How did RSL go from inconsistent to winning a championship?

(by Dan Rasmussen 11-30-09)

Throughout the majority of Real Salt Lake's 2009 season, there were few indications of what was going to eventually happen to the fifth-year MLS Club.

On one hand, it was pretty apparent RSL had the potential to be a very good side. On any given Saturday inside Rio Tinto Stadium this year, Salt Lake could play outstanding soccer against almost anyone and win convincingly.

But on the other hand, RSL could be maddeningly inconsistent.

Salt Lake almost always struggled on the road, and as the season wore along, it seemed as though the club quite simply wasn't going to be able to put it all together.

But then a funny thing happened — RSL became the team it was capable of becoming.

After scraping into the MLS Cup playoffs in the final week of October, Real Salt Lake was simply phenomenal down the stretch.

Piecing everything together at exactly the right moment, RSL was the better team in each of its four playoff games, and the end product was an MLS Cup for Salt Lake and Utah's first major professional championship in almost 40 years.

Those four matches will be remembered in club history forever, but here's a complete look back at how RSL actually got there, as well as what happened when it did.


0-1-0, 0 points

The message from RSL coach Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey throughout the offseason was one of stability.

Having advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2008 with an up-and-coming club, Kreis and Lagerwey determined they could find even more success in 2009 by sticking with their core group of players.

Accordingly, RSL largely stood pat during the offseason, with midfield enforcer Dema Kovalenko and striker Kenny Deuchar the most notable departures (striker Fabian Espindola also left the club during the offseason but later returned) and Ned Grabavoy the most notable addition.

On the heels of a pretty successful preseason, RSL had to wait an extra week to kick off its season with an opening weekend bye.

One week later, RSL began its 2009 campaign on the road to Seattle, where the club took on the Sounders in front of 28,548 frenzied fans inside Qwest Field.

It proved to be a somewhat inauspicious beginning, as RSL fell 2-0 to Seattle.

Real actually outplayed Seattle for large stretches of the match, particularly in the second half. However, after falling behind 1-0 early on, Salt Lake never could quite find an equalizer, and it was made to pay when hot-shot youngster Fredy Montero sealed the points with a goal in the 77th minute.


3-1-0, 9 points

Throughout the offseason, RSL talked and talked and talked about getting off to a good start.

After all, the club got off to a poor start in each of its previous four years of existence.

So even though RSL dropped its opener, it was still determined to get off on the right foot, especially inside pristine Rio Tinto Stadium.

As it played out, RSL got off to a decent start in 2009 — it was arguably a good start by the previous standards of the club.

Salt Lake opened its home schedule on a Thursday-night ESPN2 game against Columbus, and RSL showed the national-television audience just how lethal it could be at home.

Robbie Findley, who went on to enjoy a fabulous season, put RSL up 1-0 in just the second minute, and while Jason Garey equalized for the defending MLS champs 20 minutes later, RSL pounded home three more goals over the final 70 minutes to win convincingly.

Findley finished with RSL's first MLS hat-trick in club history in what was clearly a sign of things to come.

Nine days later, RSL edged defensive-minded D.C. United, 2-1, to move to 2-1 in the young season, and the rest of April played out as some would have expected — even if wasn't quite what Real would've hoped for.

RSL fell 2-0 to New York on the road, but it confirmed its home dominance with an overpowering 6-0 win over New England in its final MLS match of the month. Six different RSL players scored goals in the rout, with Clint Mathis' spectacular volley the pick of an outstanding bunch of goals.

Mathis, for his part, was outstanding for RSL throughout the first few months of the 2009 season.

At the end of April, RSL's U.S. Open Cup run ended before it ever began, as Salt Lake fell 4-1 to Seattle on the road.

With the success RSL had enjoyed early on, however, losing in the Open Cup didn't seem to have been too big of a deal at the time.

What happened in May, though, was certainly cause for concern.


0-4-2, 2 points

With six league matches on tap in the months of May and August, it was obvious from the beginning that both of those months were going to be crucial for RSL.

When it came to May, however, Salt Lake simply wasn't good enough.

With four of those six league matches on the road, emerging from May with a high point total was never going to be easy, but Real sputtered and sputtered en route to earning just two points for the entire month.

RSL began the month of May with an away game against archrival Colorado, looking to finally break through on the road and earn at least a point away from Rio Tinto Stadium.

Um, yeah, didn't work out that way.

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando was lost to a nasty hand injury in the 35th minute against Colorado, and RSL went on to lose 2-0.

Things were supposed to get better when Los Angeles came to town four days later, but RSL instead gave up a stoppage-time goal to Mike Magee to finish in a 2-2 draw.

Magee's goal capped a wild late sequence in extra time, which saw RSL cough up an equalizer, score a goal to momentarily surge back ahead and then give up another equalizer to share the points.

It was a sign of how the rest of the month was going to go.

RSL's final four games in May went as follows: at Chivas, 1-0 loss; vs. Kansas City, 2-0 loss; at D.C. United, 0-0 draw, and at San Jose, 2-1 loss.

Of those four results, by far the worst one was the Kansas City defeat at home.


2-0-2, 8 points

The month of June didn't begin the way RSL would've wanted it to, but the club nonetheless got some significant results in the month, results which proved invaluable at the end of the season.

In the beginning, though, Real's league winless streak reached an alarming seven games, as it finished in a 1-1 draw at home to Colorado in the second of three meetings between the two rivals.

Yura Movsisyan, who had been desperately unlucky at times during the season up to that point, appeared to have given RSL all three points when he scored in the 79th minute. The lead didn't last, however, as Omar Cummings equalized with two minutes to go.

Arguably a watershed moment occurred, though, for RSL in its next league match seven days later.

Up to that point, Real had been winless in six road matches — seven if you include the U.S. Open Cup — but the club finally broke through on the road with a 2-0 win over L.A.

Movsisyan scored to put RSL ahead in the 13th minute, and defender Nat Borchers doubled RSL's lead early in the second half.

Real followed up that result with a hard-fought 1-1 draw on the road against Houston (defender Jamison Olave was red-carded and RSL played with 10 men for most of the second half) and then beat Toronto 3-0 at home.

All in all, those eight points from four matches proved to be extremely valuable at the end of the regular season.


1-1-1, 4 points

One step forward, two steps back.

That's what the month of July felt like for RSL, as it struggled to build on the momentum it created in June. Because of the way the schedule set up, Salt Lake only had three league matches in the month of July, with six to follow in August.

One day before the Fourth of July, RSL tripped up against San Jose in its first match of the month.

Salt Lake fell behind, 1-0, when Arturo Alvarez netted for San Jose in the 63th minute. Playing with 10 men, however, because of an Espindola red card, RSL earned a point via a San Jose own goal in the 91st minute.

Following an encouraging exhibition win over Club America, RSL fell 3-1 to Columbus on the road before returning to beat Dallas, 4-2, at home.

In what was one of the more memorable regular-season games in club history, RSL fell behind Dallas 2-0 in the first half before roaring back after halftime.

Movsisyan got things going with a goal in the 55th minute, and Real found the back of the net three more times over the final half hour to win a game that had just about everything.

Off the field, RSL news in early July was dominated by the status of Movsisyan, who signed a pre-contract with Randers FC of Denmark. With his contract in MLS set to expire at the end of the season, there was much speculation that MLS would cut a deal to send him to Randers at that point.

The two sides couldn't come to an agreement, however, and Movsisyan wound up staying through the end of the season. Movsisyan struggled on the pitch for a while after signing his deal with Randers, but he wound up being an indispensable part of RSL's playoff run.


3-2-1, 10 points

Three days after the MLS All-Star game was held inside Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL played on the road against Chicago in what many believed could be the first of six defining matches.

After all, Salt Lake would only have six more league matches after August, and it needed to rack up lots of points this month before having to sit around for stretches of September and October.

As it played out, RSL did OK in the month of August — not great but not bad.

With one notable exception, RSL's season-long form held true in August — the club won its games at home and lost on the road.

RSL opened August with a 1-0 loss at Chicago but returned home seven days later and beat Seattle by the same scoreline.

One week later, though, RSL ultimately couldn't punch through at home against Houston in a 0-0 draw that many believed could derail Salt Lake's playoff hopes.

RSL was playing with a man advantage after Houston's Andrew Hainault was red-carded in the 30th minute, but a moment of madness by Mathis nullified that advantage, as he was given a second yellow card for dissent in first-half stoppage time.

Neither team managed a goal in 10 vs. 10 soccer in the second half.

RSL then fell on the road to New England, 3-1, before closing the month with back-to-back wins.

The first one, a 4-0 home victory over Chivas, was expected. The second one, a 1-0 road victory over Kansas City, wasn't.

Recent acquisition Pablo Campos found the back of the net early in the first half against the Wizards, and RSL played composed soccer the rest of the way to get three huge points, despite playing a man down for the entire second half.


0-2-1, 1 point

Because the club only had three matches to play in September, all of them were of extreme importance. Unfortunately for RSL, it failed to win in any of them, leaving its playoff hopes in dire straits.

RSL didn't play until the 12th of September, at home to Chicago, but it misfired its way to a 1-1 draw.

On this occasion, Chicago's Chris Rolfe opened the scoring in the 44th minute before Olave salvaged a draw with a perfectly-placed goal in the 72nd minute.

Back-to-back road games ensued, but RSL failed to take points from any of them.

The first one, an away trip to Houston seven days after the Chicago draw, was always going to be a difficult one. While RSL had drawn with Houston in Houston earlier in the year, the perennial contenders are always tough, and the Dynamo had too much firepower for RSL in what was a 3-2 Houston win.

One week later, RSL believed perhaps its best chance to break through on the road would come at Dallas.

Didn't happen.

Jeff Cunningham, the former RSL striker who did not get along with Kreis, scored twice and led the way for Dallas to pull out a 3-0 victory over RSL.

The match left Salt Lake's playoff hopes dangling by a thread.


2-1-0, 6 points

1-0-0 in the MLS Cup Playoffs

The final two matches in October (a regular-season win over Colorado and a postseason win over Columbus) are the ones that RSL fans will remember most from this month.

But before either of them happened, RSL had to win its first match of October against New York.

In what was another nationally televised affair, Real was locked in a 0-0 game against the only MLS team it had never beaten.

RSL wouldn't have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a loss, but realistically it would've been.

With the minutes ticking along, however, Andy Williams delivered the goods to save RSL.

His volley in the 80th minute put RSL ahead 1-0, and Espindola clinched the 2-0 win with a goal 10 minutes later.

Of course, things got awfully tricky for RSL after that clutch win.

Salt Lake fell on the road to Toronto, 1-0, three days later, and it needed a bunch of things to happen on the final weekend of the regular season to get into the playoffs.

There were a myriad of playoff scenarios, but the clearest route for RSL to get into the postseason involved the club beating Colorado and then having three of four other teams all not win.

That's precisely what happened, and RSL performed majestically against Colorado to hold up its end of the bargain.

Findley scored twice and Movsisyan added another to give RSL a 3-0 win in what was one of the finest performances in club history. Salt Lake simply won battles all over the field to best Colorado and retain the Rocky Mountain Cup.

And when it was confirmed later in the night that other results had gone RSL's way, the club was headed back to the postseason.

Real drew defending champ Columbus in the opening round, with the first of the home-and-home matches to be played at Rio Tinto Stadium on Halloween.

Columbus coach Robert Warzycha surprisingly opted to leave reigning MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto on the bench, and the Crew played defensive-minded soccer throughout the first leg.

RSL, for its part, wasn't great in the first half, but chugged and chugged and eventually got a late goal to win.

That strike came via a superb linkup between Findley and Movsisyan in the 88th minute, with Findley slotting the ball home to propel RSL to a 1-0 win heading back to Columbus.


3-0-0 in the Playoffs

RSL played three matches in the month of November, and all three will be remembered by fans for years to come.

Entering the first one, an Eastern Conference semifinal at Columbus, RSL was cautiously optimistic. (RSL was seeded in the Eastern Conference because it finished below the top four teams in the Western Conference.) Salt Lake had been the better team in the first leg, it was taking a 1-0 aggregate lead back to Columbus and it was facing a side that had been struggling offensively.

Over the first half hour, however, those facts mattered very little. Columbus scored to go up 2-0 in the 35th minute, and it seemed that RSL was going to be headed out of the playoffs.

At any other point in its history, RSL would've lost this road game.

But the club searched deep within itself and pulled out something special.

Javier Morales pulled a goal back almost immediately, and when Findley converted a penalty kick just before halftime to level the score at 2-2 (3-2 for RSL on aggregate), you got the feeling that everything could be coming together for Salt Lake.

Andy Williams sealed the semifinal series with a third RSL goal in the 74th minute, as RSL went on to win the game 3-2 and the series 4-2.

In the Eastern Conference finals, RSL drew Chicago on the road.

While Chicago had hardly been a stellar home team in 2009, the Fire were considered by many the favorite.

But over what proved to be 120 minutes of soccer, RSL never played like an underdog. Real's midfield controlled large portions of the conference final, as Salt Lake played very well but struggled to get the ball in the back of the net.

The game finished in a 0-0 draw through regulation and two overtimes, with a shootout required to determine the winner.

When that happened, Rimando lived up to his billing as a fabulous shootout 'keeper as he saved three penalties to propel RSL to MLS Cup.

After a week of hype and hoopla, MLS Cup kicked off eight days later inside Qwest Field between RSL and Los Angeles.

With stars David Beckham and Landon Donovan in tote, many believed L.A. would hoist the MLS Cup at the end of the night. And when Magee put the Galaxy up 1-0 in the 41st minute, it seemed that script was unfolding.

But RSL refused to let it happen.

Real played like champions in the second half and got back on level terms in the 64th minute when Findley scored after a scramble in front of goal.

From there, RSL largely controlled possession and had the majority of the game's chances. Neither team, however, found the back of the net, and was the case in RSL's conference final, the match headed to a shootout.

The lottery event proved to be a seesaw affair, with seven rounds of shooters required to decide MLS Cup.

In the seventh round, though, Rimando came up with his second save of the shootout, and Robbie Russell subsequently stepped up and drilled the game-winning penalty into the net.

In that moment, a season filled largely with frustration finished with pure joy and elation for RSL.

Salt Lake Regional Sports Complex articles

Construction on new sports complex to get underway

( 11-5-10)

Seven years after voters first approved a $15 million bond, soccer supporters formally launched construction for a new sports complex near Salt Lake International Airport.

A Friday kickoff event marked a major milestone for both the future Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex and soccer's rise to prominence in Utah.

City and county officials along with Real Salt Lake players and financial donors kicked ceremonial gold soccer balls into a net at the site, located at 2199 North and 1912 West, to commemorate the occasion.

In 2003, voters passed a $15 million bond for construction, contingent on $7.5 million from private sources, a sum pro club Real Salt Lake donated in 2007. Now, after years of hurdles and headaches, construction is ready to begin.

The proposal faced opposition from individuals over environmental concerns, as the land for the complex borders the Jordan River and is considered open space.

As recently as Wednesday, the Jordan River Restoration Network futilely petitioned a 3rd District judge to halt construction on the project, saying it will devastate migratory bird habitat and violate flood-plain rules.

The network's coordinator, Jeff Salt, said it is not ready to give up. "I think it's premature. The city still has not received their Army Corps of Engineers wetland fill permit and that's essential before they can move forward with construction. Meantime, our zoning appeal is still pending," Salt said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker thinks the project balances the needs for athletic facilities with river habitat restoration.

"There's no doubt in my mind given the ferocity of the opponents to this project they'll continue to try to challenge it in every way they can. We'll be respectful of that," he said.

"Our decisions have been made and subject to judicial review, and we'll keep moving forward," Becker added.

Current design plans for phase one of the complex include 15 competition-quality soccer fields, one championship field, seven lighted fields, more than 600 trees, administration and maintenance facilities, and a Nature Preserve along the riparian corridor of the Jordan River.

Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts, who last year celebrated the team's first championship, said the new complex will be an extraordinary facility when completed. He anticipates it will provide a huge boost for the sport.

"I do believe that we will have kids playing for Real Salt Lake that have grown up here in the not too distant future," Checketts said.

The city expects the project to be completed by fall 2011.


Soccer complex project taking shape

(by John Daley 10-15-10)

Years ago voters first approved a bond to build a new soccer complex in Salt Lake City. The project soon begins taking shape. The question: Can Jordan River restoration peacefully co-habitate with soccer competition? Backers of the long-delayed new Regional Athletic Complex say yes.

"That 17 fields will do wonders for our competitive youth leagues here in the city," said soccer complex supporter Dave Spatafore. "Some rec leagues will play there. But it will be a great economic engine for tournaments coming into the Salt Lake valley."

Soon, Salt Lake City starts construction on the project, just east of I-215 near the airport. In 2003, voters passed a $15 million bond for construction, contingent on $7.5 million from private sources; a sum professional club Real Salt Lake has kicked in.

Construction will happen in two phases, with 16 or 17 multi-purpose fields going in first -- half with lighting and one with all-season sport turf -- plus a championship pitch with seats for 2000.

Leaders in Salt Lake City say they hope the project will become a model for future Jordan River restoration

The proposal drew sharp criticism from residents preferring to keep the land open space. The city says 23 acres along the river will be restored and preserved, with a 100 to 400 feet buffer between the river and the fields, management of storm water runoff and mitigation wetlands.

"There are probably people who are not satisfied," said Emy Maloutas, open space lands program manager. "But I would say that this plan really strives, more than any other project that's happened on the river, to strike a balance."

The city expects to hold a groundbreaking late this month or in early November. A spokesman for Real Salt Lake says the project will provide a big boost for soccer in the state.

If all goes according to plan, the facility could host its first event, perhaps a cross-country running race, in about a year.

Most fields are expected to open in the spring of 2012.


Salt Lake City approves oft-delayed soccer complex

( 9-8-10)

Salt Lake City council members ended seven years of wrangling with approval for a nearly $23 million soccer complex along the Jordan River in the city's northwest corner.

A 5-2 council vote on Tuesday calls for use of a $15.3 million bond that voters approved in 2003, plus $7.5 million donated by Utah's Major League Soccer team, Real Salt Lake.

The complex at 2200 North near Rose Park is scheduled to be built by fall 2011.

The plan calls for 16 soccer fields, including a championship facility with seating for 2,000.

The effort was delayed by environmental concerns, court fights and cost overruns.

The Salt Lake Tribune says critics claim the complex was part of a secret city agenda to create an elite academy for Real Salt Lake.


Group asks judge to block soccer complex until lawsuit resolved

( 8-20-10)

An environmental group went back to court Friday in an attempt to halt plans for a new soccer complex in Rose Park.

Earlier this week, a judge denied an appeal from the Jordan River Restoration Network to postpone a public hearing on the complex.

The group is suing Salt Lake City to gain access to every document dealing with the complex since 2002.

Members say those documents show that the city has not been up front with taxpayers on the details of the $44 million project.

"It's unfortunate that SLC with its budget crisis, they can't afford to keep the streetlights screwed in and will jeopardize neighborhood safety, will put money into a boondoggle elective project like the sports complex which is speculative at best," said Jeff Salt with the Jordan River Restoration Network.

Friday the group asked a judge for summary judgment barring the city from moving forward with the complex until the lawsuit is settled.


Environmentalists fight Jordan River sports complex

(by Nicole Gonzales 12-16-09)

A new environmental coalition spoke out Wednesday against a proposed soccer complex site in Salt Lake. The city is planning on breaking ground as soon as next spring. Over 150 acres of open land along the Jordan River and 2200 North could soon be a sprawling sports complex.

The new Jordan River Restoration Network argues it's the place for wetlands, open space and wildlife. Dr. Ty Harrison, professor of Wildlife Biology, says, "This is not the place for a soccer complex."

The city has a different goal: 18 soccer fields, 4 baseball diamonds, a large stadium and a parking lot for 1,300 cars. Voters approved the plan six years ago.

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker says, "We need to initiate construction this year. We're working through the final planning and design phase."

Becker and the city plan to incorporate a buffer zone of at least 100 feet to protect the Jordan River and even improve it by using $15 million from the 2003 bond election, Real Salt Lake's gift of $7.5 million and a possible $17 million from the county.

"We are looking to really, greatly enhance current quality of the Jordan River along that stretch," Becker says.

But opponents say adding a huge sports facility would inherently destroy the quality of land there. The group believes Salt Lake City is contradicting its environmental stance by building the complex.

Jeff Salt of the Great Salt Lake Keepers says, "Salt Lake City has abandoned its environmental policies, commitment to open space and a commitment to this recent planning document called ‘Blueprint Jordan River.'"

That policy passed earlier this year and was supposed to be a guide for preserving open space along the river.

Ray Wheeler, with the Earth Restoration Project, says, "Either we choose to protect what little we have left, or we bury it under parking lots and buildings."

Mayor Becker says the plan will be sensitive to the surrounding area. Mayor Ralph Becker/Salt Lake City Becker says, "I don't think anyone takes environmental matters more seriously than I do or Salt Lake City."

The coalition has suggested three other sites for this sports complex:

-5600 West California Ave
-between 500 South and Indiana Ave
-1000 North and I-15

However, the city plans to go forward with the original site.


Salt Lake City moves ahead on sports complex

( 9-9-09)

The Salt Lake City Council has agreed to spend $500,000 for 160 acres of state land that would become 12 soccer fields, two baseball diamonds and more.

The regional sports complex would be on the city's west side on the banks of the Jordan River near Rose Park.

The complex also would include rest rooms, concession stands and parking for 1,300 vehicles.

Construction on the $22.8 million first phase of the project could start next year. Funding will come from a $15.3 million bond that residents approved in 2003 and a $7.5 million pledge from Real Salt Lake.

Public Services Director Rick Graham expects the land transfer with the state to be signed Monday.

Graham says a deal letting the city upgrade the site in ways that also benefit the state could slash the land bill to $164,000.


Soccer complex may soon become reality with county's help

(by John Daley 7-18-08)

A much-delayed recreational soccer complex may be getting a new life. With the help of Salt Lake County, backers of the proposed facility hope they'll have enough money to push the project to completion.

The new 24-field, 180 acre recreational soccer and baseball complex, which would be sandwiched between I-215 and the Jordan River near the airport, was supposed to be home to dozens of soccer and baseball fields. But five years after voters OK'd money for the project, nothing has happened.

The complex was part of the Real Salt Lake soccer stadium deal. A $7.5 million contribution from RSL owner Dave Checketts should have gotten the ball rolling last year. But costs ballooned, Salt Lake City changed administrations, and a year later, still no progress.

Now, discussions have begun to get some kind of help from Salt Lake County. "We don't know yet, but we certainly want to be supportive in ways we can, whether it's financially or helping manage the project, whatever it might be," Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said.

Project backers hope the city, plus the county and possible corporate partners, will bridge a $5 million to $8 million gap.

"We believe probably a $5-8 million revenue stream from the county, together with doing the bond for the championship field and the $23 million we already have, will get this project up and running and operational in the next couple of years," said Dave Spatafore, co-chair of the Salt Lake Athletic Complex.

Corroon says he views the use of any public funds to build youth fields capable of hosting regional- or national-caliber tournaments as an investment in economic development.

"These kinds of recreation fields, if we can bring a tournament here into Salt Lake County, we'll bring thousands of young kids. They come with their families, as well, and they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars when they come here for these tournaments, probably millions of dollars," Corroon said.

Supporters of this project say if they can get help from the county, construction could begin next spring, with completion in the fall of 2010 or spring of 2011.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City's mayor has a new point man on this project: former Utah Jazz president Dennis Haslam, who he hopes will move this project along.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

RSL's 2010 playoff run

Real Salt Lake ties 1-1, eliminated from MLS playoffs

(by James Edwards 11-6-10)

Real Salt Lake's bid for back-to-back MLS titles came to a premature end Saturday night, and the pressure of the repeat might have been the reason why.

After winning Game 1 last weekend, FC Dallas came to Utah for Game 2 knowing it only needed a tie to clinch the Western Conference semifinal series. That's exactly what it got, escaping with a 1-1 draw in front of 19,324 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. The result clinched the series 3-2 on aggregate.

FC Dallas moves on to the Western Conference final to face either Los Angeles or Seattle, who wrap up their first-round series tonight.

Trailing most of the game, Real Salt Lake tied it late on Robbie Findley's 80th-minute equalizer, but despite a frantic attack in the waning minutes it couldn't put away the series equalizer that would have sent the match into overtime.

It was a bitter end to a fantastic season for Real Salt Lake, which finished with the second-best record in MLS. None of that mattered on Saturday, however, as FC Dallas became the third lower-seeded team to win a playoff series this year.

Real Salt Lake's mentality over the first game and a half of the series was a big reason why.

"I think we played a little tentatively and a little scared because we were nervous to lose, and I don't think you can ever be at your best when you're a little bit nervous and a little bit scared," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.

Those nerves were really only a problem in the first half. After a decent start, Real Salt Lake started to give the ball away in bizarre ways. It led to numerous dangerous counter attacks by a Dallas team that seemed content to defend and try and protect its one-goal lead in the series.

"You struggle with the counter attack when you give the ball away needlessly. If you take better care of the ball you don't have to worry about the counter attack," said Kreis.

Dallas took the 1-0 lead — and 3-1 series lead — in the 17th minute as Brek Shea used his 6-foot-4 frame to outjump RSL defender Tony Beltran and chest the ball in the path of streaking midfielder Dax McCarty, who easily finished.

The early goal compounded RSL's dire situation, and it played the remainder of the first half unsure quite how to react.

After cooling off a bit at halftime, Real Salt Lake came out with a renewed purpose in the second half. So did Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman.

Facing a feverish attack in the second half, Hartman made four quality saves to preserve the necessary result for his team.

"I felt their goal keeper was standing on his head, and he was the difference in the match and the difference in the series," said Kreis.

Two saves in particular were the difference. Early in the second half RSL's Fabian Espindola tracked down an Andy Williams through ball in the box for a one-on-one opportunity with the keeper. He caught Hartman leaning the wrong way and fired a shot toward the far post, but it was deflected off the keeper's toe and over the crossbar.

In the 74th minute he made another reactionary kick save, this time on a deflected shot by Will Johnson.

Hartman wasn't super human though, and RSL's frantic attack eventually led to an equalizer as substitute Robbie Findley slammed home a headed pass from Nat Borchers in the 80th minute.

In the final 10 minutes, and four minutes of stoppage time, RSL threw everything it had forward and came agonizingly close to slipping one past Hartman.

"Tough series to lose. Give credit to Hartman tonight. He made some unbelievable saves — hit the posts," said Williams. "It's just unfortunate that they scored first. That kind of changed momentum. That changed the way we played."

RSL finished the game outshooting Dallas 15-8, including a 10-2 edge in the second half.

In the end it couldn't overcome its own sluggish start.

"The first half we weren't connecting our passes, our passes were a little bit off. A couple steps slower than Dallas in the first half," said Williams. "I guess them getting that early goal we started chasing too much, but second half we settled it down, I think 80 percent of the game was played in their half."

The playoff series win was the first for FC Dallas since 1999.


Real Salt Lake falls to FC Dallas, 2-1

(by James Edwards 10-31-10)

Nat Borchers couldn't help but chuckle.

His team had just conceded an 88th-minute goal on a scintillating strike by Eric Avila, and once again Real Salt Lake was on the verge of leaving Dallas a loser.

"It's Dallas. I was actually kind of laughing after the goal. It seems like Dallas has our number when we play away in this stadium," said Borchers.

Avila's wonder goal gave FC Dallas a 2-1 win at Pizza Hut Park in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal. The two-game aggregate series shifts to Rio Tinto Stadium next Saturday, and RSL is still upbeat about the prospects of a series win.

"Everybody in this locker is feeling positive that we're going back only down a goal," said Borchers. "We're so strong at home and we're really excited for that opportunity."

With as promising as Game 1 started out, it should be returning to Utah with at least a tie. RSL went ahead early on a fifth-minute goal by Fabian Espindola, and it looked as if the club's miserable history of eight losses in eight trips to Dallas might finally be over.

Instead, Real Salt Lake conceded a goal late in the first half and then again late in the second half to fall to 0-9-0 all-time in Dallas.

"When you go away in a playoff match and you score the first goal, especially us, we expect better," said coach Jason Kreis.

Considering that Game 1 of RSL's two previous conference semifinal appearances remained scoreless until at least the 88th minute, Espindola's early goal was quite shocking.

It was all part of master plan.

Kreis figured FC Dallas would expect the visitors to sit back and defend, so he wanted to catch them off-guard early and encouraged his players to knock the ball in behind Dallas when the moment presented itself in the opening 15 minutes.

That's exactly how Espindola scored as he tracked down an over-the-top ball from Andy Williams, and then fought off defender Ugo Ihemelu before curling a shot around Kevin Hartman for the 1-0 lead.

"The problem was we never then got to what was supposed to happen after the first 15 minutes. We were supposed to possess the ball for long stretches of time," said Kreis.

Instead of settling into its brand of possession-oriented soccer after the goal, Salt Lake played chaotic soccer the remainder of the first half. It eventually caught up with the visitors.

"We never slowed down. We just kept this pressure that's too hard to maintain for 90 minutes," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.

FC Dallas equalized just before halftime when Jeff Cunningham slipped between Jamison Olave and Robbie Russell and fired a low shot past Nick Rimando despite pleas from Real Salt Lake that Cunningham handled the ball.

"It was a clear handball, but both referees were out of position," said Beckerman. "But whatever, that happens."

After halftime, RSL settled down and escaping with a draw seemed like a good possibility.

Things began to unravel in the final 20 minutes.

Real Salt Lake was reduced to 10 men in the 69th minute when Javier Morales picked up his second yellow card of the game on a high kick to Dax McCarty. RSL didn't have a single red card during the regular season.

Dallas' man advantage lasted all of six minutes, as Atiba Harris picked up a questionable straight red card on an elbow to Will Johnson in the 75th minute. Morales and Harris will both be suspended for Game 2 next Saturday.

Johnson wasn't in the starting 11 because of a hamstring tweak he picked up in training earlier this week, but he entered the match in the 68th minute for Williams.

Despite the fresh legs of Williams and Robbie Findley entering simultaneously, Salt Lake grew increasingly more fatigued and the players' inability to slow things down earlier started to catch up with them.

FC Dallas' desperate attack finally paid off in the 88th minute as Eric Avila scored a wonderful goal less than a minute after coming on as a substitute.

MLS MVP finalist David Ferreira was the instigator of the goal, as he fought off several challenges and foul attempts in the midfield.

"I was behind, so I couldn't really crush him," said defender Chris Wingert. "I tried to get enough of him, I tried to hold him up twice. But credit to him, he stayed up."

Wisely the referee let the advantage play out and Avila made the most of it.

"Ferreira made the whole play, he's got two or three of our players draped all over him and none of us made the game-saving tackle on him or perhaps a game-saving foul," said Kreis.

Now RSL returns home needing a win to have any hope of extending its season.