(by Randy Davis mlssoccer.com 9-23-11)
After an impressive win against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis let the news be known.
“We see the Supporters’ Shield in our grasp,” Kreis told ESPN700 Sports Radio, “and we’re going to go for it.”
No, it’s not necessarily news that RSL would doggedly pursue perhaps the league’s biggest prize. But that his club is even in this spot is somewhat of a stunner, considering that a number of critics recently questioned whether the team had it in them to even maintain a playoff spot.
But five games is a lifetime in an MLS season, and five straight wins can do wonders. Suddenly RSL are seven points back of the league-leading LA Galaxy with five games to go, including a huge road matchup against D.C. United on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
RSL also have a titanic matchup looming against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Oct. 21, a prime chance to make up ground on their Western Conference rivals.
“I’m really surprised, actually,” Kreis told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. "When we went through that very difficult stretch – before that we were always thinking Supporters’ Shield. At the beginning of the year, we were thinking Supporters’ Shield.”
Like the CONCACAF Champions League crown which just slipped through their grasp earlier this season, RSL covet the Supporters’ Shield for one simple reason: They haven’t won it. Not yet, anyway.
“Everybody knows that we like to tackle those hurdles, and do things that we haven’t done before,” Kreis said, “and so it was a big, big deal to us.”
A serious rough patch in late July and August, however, nearly put an end to all Shield talk. The club lost four of five games between July 30 and Aug. 20, punctuated by a last-second loss to the Houston Dynamo in which RSL led by a goal on two separate occasions.
“When we went through that difficult stretch we said ‘OK, forget about that,’” Kreis said. “’Let’s just make sure we get in the playoffs and by playoff time hopefully we’ll be healthy and we’ll be rounding into form, and we’ll have some momentum going into the playoffs. And hopefully we’ll get ourselves back to the Cup.’”
But so much for that. The club is healthy and headstrong as it reaches the final push, and it’s back to business for Real Salt Lake.
“After these last five matches, you’re back in a different situation,” Kreis said. “And I think everybody knows that when there is something out there for me and for this club, we want to go after it full tilt.”