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.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

End of an era for RSL? There's one final job

(by Jonah Freedman 10-25-12)

"Well I guess there's only one thing left to do ... win the whole [effing] thing."

– Jake Taylor, Major League

If you remember the 1989 classic like I do, you know the scene well. The ragtag but plucky Cleveland Indians had just been informed they were constructed as a band of misfits in order to be so bad, the owner would be able to move the team. It became a rallying point for The Tribe. And may or may not have been where Charlie Sheen got the idea of “tiger blood.”

Real Salt Lake are certainly not a band of underdog misfits. Well, they're no longer underdogs, at least (as for the other part, they do have some of the more creative hairstyles and body ink in MLS). But on Tuesday night, when their CONCACAF Champions League adventure came to an unlikely end in a scoreless home draw with Herediano, it did resemble their Major League moment.

Back in preseason, Jason Kreis told that this was a final hurrah for RSL’s core, a group of relative overachievers and underdogs that shocked their way to the MLS Cup 2009 title, went all the way to the 2010-11 CCL finals and won more games over a three-season span than all but one MLS team.

That teasing taste of near-glory in continental play was the top of the mountain, and Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey chose to keep together their group of non-superstar everymen for 18 more months. It was a chance to return to the CCL finals and make one more run at another MLS Cup.

On Tuesday, half of that dream came to a screeching halt. It was a bit of poetic injustice as RSL once again saw a multitude of scoring chances go missing, and bowed out of the tournament on their home turf.

But that also made the picture a bit clearer. If this is truly the end for the nucleus of the Claret-and-Cobalt, there’s just one thing left to do:

Win the whole [effing] thing.

That is, go for the MLS Cup. CONCACAF glory may be out of reach, but there’s one more chance for them to do something special as the playoffs approach.

It would be an appropriate capper on RSL’s legacy. This is a team that has changed the way we think of success in MLS. Maybe a bit like Major League, Lagerwey and Kreis put together a group of cast-offs and undervalued players, never wavering from their philosophy that “the team is the star.”

It culminated in a fitting upset of the star-studded LA Galaxy in Seattle back in November of 2009. It continued the following season, when RSL morphed from an underdog into a perennial power, ripping off the first of three straight 50-point seasons.

Their aspirations became even clearer as Salt Lake became the first MLS club to truly hold the CONCACAF Champions League in high value, a sign that they could be part of something bigger. And their play in continental competition proved it, with huge results in Mexico and Costa Rica.

Through it all, they’ve played soccer the way it was meant to be played: with cleverness, with an unselfish, pass-first ethos. With an expertly executed midfield diamond that plays to their strengths. When it works, it’s truly the Beautiful Game.

But despite it all, the end of the era has been in sight over the past couple seasons. They’ve never fully replaced Robbie Findley, who left for Europe after the 2010 season. Steady hands like Robbie Russell and Andy Williams are now gone, and their locker-room presence has been difficult to replace.

Once the winners’ names are etched on the Philip F. Anschutz trophy at the end of these playoffs, the exodus could be even swifter.

Javier Morales’ DP-level contract is up – and for as much of an integral part of this team as he’s been, he hasn’t been the same since his horrific broken ankle last season. He’ll be 33 years old when First Kick 2013 rolls around, and it’s fair to wonder if he has it in him to return to that old magic.

Though he’s dominant, center back Jámison Olave spent much of 2012 injured. And as the most expensive defender on the roster – while youngsters Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe have stepped up – it’s not impossible to see RSL finally accepting one of those rumored offers from big South American clubs.

Other contracts are up, too, like those of Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran. And Kreis and Lagerwey will have to examine the cost-effectiveness of other players under the cap and balance those with the emergence of more young talent like Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez and David Viana. In fact, very quietly, RSL have become the seventh-youngest roster in MLS.

In boxing, they say it never ends pretty. In life, you don’t often get a chance for one last hurrah while knowing going into it that this really is the final ride for a group that has been through so many battles.

The old hands at RSL know this. Yes, it’s a Major League bummer that things didn’t work out in the Champions League. But as far as refocusing on the other goal, it seems like they get it.

"This is over,” Fabián Espíndola said after Tuesday’s elimination, “and we have to win the championship."

Not even Pedro Cerrano could have said it better.

Herediano holds RSL scoreless, Salt Lake club out of Champions League

(by Kira Terry 10-24-12)
Real Salt Lake played its final 2012-13 Champions League match Tuesday night as the Costa Rican club C.S. Herediano held the Salt Lake club to a scoreless match, ending its CONCACAF hopes.

A result that RSL fought hard to avoid.

“It’s a tough one to take,” said RSL Captain and midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “We created enough chances to score four or five tonight, but we didn’t and so we’re not moving on.”

RSL head coach Jason Kreis agreed with Beckerman on the result being a tough one, despite the fight his club put up.

“I think it’s always going to be a little mentally frustrating when you get some clear chances and you don’t take them, but I think our guys put all the right effort into it,” said Kreis. “Herediano made it very difficult.”

RSL entered game needing either a 1-0 win or a two goal win over Herediano in order to advance to the next stage of Champions League play in 2013. Instead, Herediano held RSL to a 0-0 draw, enough for the Costa Rican club to advance.

Playing without its leading scorer, Alvaro Saborio, due to a yellow-card suspension, RSL wasn’t able to put a way any goals in the first half despite its seven shots on goal and a plethora of chances the Salt Lake side created, forcing RSL into the second half tied 0-0 with the Costa Rican club.

“We know (Saborio’s) an important player,” said Kreis. “(Saborio) seems to be the one that always is able to take that initial play in the penalty box to make the difference. When we play without him we don’t typically have someone that’s always in the box, always there to make that finish for us.”

Despite the result, Kreis had nothing but positive things to say about his roster and the match RSL played.

“(I'm) really, really, really proud of the men out there,” said Kreis. “At halftime I told them their performance was spectacular. We did all the things that we needed to do to win these big games except that final touch.”

“I’m pleased,” Kreis continued. “Watching them the first half, I felt like it was the first game of the playoffs last year or some of the playoff games in 2009 — just some of our very best stuff.”

RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando completely agreed with his boss.

“I thought we played great, I really did,” said Rimando. “I thought (a goal) was going to come, but that’s football sometimes. It gets the best of you even when you’re the better team. But congratulations to (Herediano), they played a great defensive game and they came out on top and give credit to them.”

The Claret and Cobalt don’t have much down time before returning to the pitch and other big upcoming matches.

“We need to move forward very quickly because we’ve got a pretty big tournament of our own in front of us,” said Kreis.

A sellout crowd of 20,436 packed Rio Tinto Stadium and stuck out the 90+ minutes of steady rain. Tuesday night’s sellout crowd was the fifth consecutive for RSL and the 10th this season, extending the Salt Lake clubs season record.

“We don’t get enough opportunities to say again how much we appreciate our fans,” said Kreis. “I thought they were awesome tonight and our group really feeds off of the energy that the fans can provide so together we performed – the fans, the team – very well, we were just unlucky.”

Monday, October 22, 2012

Time for a showdown in the Champions League

(by Steve Luhm 10-22-12)

There is an unwritten rule in professional sports: Never put too much emphasis on one game because there’s always another just around the corner. Don’t add pressure to your situation because it could impact how you play.

RSL isn’t following the rules.

Real Salt Lake management, players and coaches freely admit the significance of the match heading into Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League game against C.S. Herediano at Rio Tinto Stadium.

"It is a massive game," general manager Garth Lagerwey said. "Pretending it’s not won’t make it go away. And I think everybody understands that — from the players in the locker room to the fans. They know what it’s all about."

Midfielder Will Johnson agreed.

"Potentially," he said, "it’s one of the top-five biggest games in the history in Real Salt Lake."

Herediano is 3-0 in Group 2 of the Champions League, including a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake in July.

RSL is 2-1 and, because of tie-breakers, it must win the showdown with the Costa Rican club by specific margins: 1-0 or by at least two goals.

If Real Salt Lake can’t do it, Herediano advances to the CONCACAF quarterfinal round in February and one of RSL’s major goals this season will go unfulfilled.

"This means everything for us — to get out of our group in CONCACAF," Johnson said. "It’s a tournament that is great for the club. Recognition-wise, you put yourself on the map if you can consistently be one of the top teams in the [Champions] League."

Real Salt Lake became the first team from the United States to reach the finals in 2011.

RSL eventually lost to Monterrey by a two-game aggregate score of 3-2, but it was a landmark effort that put the franchise on soccer’s world-wide map.

According to Lagerwey, the match against Herediano is his team’s most important since the loss to Monterrey.

"After that," he said, "winning this competition became very important to us and, if we get to the knock-out round, we’ll be on the precipice."

Along with capturing a Major League Soccer championship, which RSL did in 2009, winning the Champions League "is the biggest goal of our club," Lagerwey said.

"We’ve been pursuing this for a long time, and it’s incredibly hard," he said. "But I think you find that difficult things are often worth the effort."

Coach Jason Kreis remembers the hollow feeling his club experienced after losing to Monterrey. It’s something he wants to avoid against Herediano.

"For any professional player or coach in a competitive environment like this, it’s a chance to make history," Kreis said. "It’s a chance to be the first U.S. team to win this tournament.

"We came so close last time that I think we all still have that taste in our mouths — wanting to get back there. And we know we have to have a result Tuesday in order to take the next step."

"For any professional player or coach in a competitive environment like this, it’s a chance to make history," Kreis said. "It’s a chance to be the first U.S. team to win this tournament.

"We came so close last time that I think we all still have that taste in our mouths — wanting to get back there. And we know we have to have a result Tuesday in order to take the next step."

There also is a business aspect to the match.

RSL must advance to receive a salary-budget bonus from Major League Soccer. Without it, RSL might be forced to disband its core group of players and start rebuilding.

The league provides the bonus to support teams advancing in Champions League since many need the financial help to retain the players who helped them qualify for the knock-out rounds.

Without the bonus, Lagerwey told The Tribune last month that RSL likely will make some changes.

"I like to say if the team is successful and advances in Champions League, we have a big incentive to keep them together," Lagerwey said. "And conversely, by succeeding in Champions League, we get more money, which allows us to keep the team together."

The bottom line?

"Everybody knows we have to win," forward Fabian Espindola said.

Quakes set Guinness World Record on Groundbreaking Day

6,256 people helped the Quakes break ground on their new stadium, a new Guinness World Record

( 10-21-12)

The San Jose Earthquakes set a Guinness World Record Sunday afternoon for largest participatory groundbreaking, paving the way for future construction on the club's 18,000 seat, privately financed stadium at 1125 Coleman Ave.

The final count was 6,256 participants, smashing the previous mark of 4,532 set by a group in Jaipur, India. An official Guinness World Record adjudicator was on site to verify the record.

"This is a landmark day for all Bay Area soccer fans," Club President Dave Kaval said. "I couldn't be more proud to be a part of this organization. The support from our fans has been tremendous the entire way through this process, but today was something special."

Fans lined up two hours before the event and entered a dirt area which will be the club's future playing field. Club owner Lew Wolff, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and San Jose city officials dug alongside the thousands of participants for two minutes to secure a spot in the record books.

The Earthquakes' new stadium is set for completion in 2014.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

RSL uniforms, 2012 (debut of the one blue sleeve design)

Seattle shutouts Cascadia rival Portland 3-0

(by Tim Booth 10-8-12)

One of the originals still around since the inaugural 2009 season, Brad Evans has witnessed many nights when the fans of the Seattle Sounders top what they've done before.

Playing before one of the largest crowds in league history and against a fierce rival on Sunday night could be the top.

"You always remember certain games and get emotional with certain games," Evans said. " ... Anytime you walk out and you feel the chills, you know it's going to be a special game and you play off those emotions because that pushes you through walls and that's something I thought our guys played off the crowd tonight and we won."

Eddie Johnson scored his 14th goal of the season just minutes after an own goal gave Seattle the lead, Fredy Montero added another in the 62nd minute, and the Sounders raced past Cascadia rival Portland 3-0 before the second largest crowd for a stand-alone MLS game in league history.

Johnson's goal in the 28th minute gave Seattle a 2-0 lead and helped the Sounders move into third-place in the Western Conference, two points clear of fourth-place Los Angeles. It was a vital three points in Seattle's efforts to avoid having the No. 4 seed in the MLS Western Conference playoffs and having to play an extra playoff game against the No. 5 seed with the winner of that likely getting San Jose in the conference semifinals.

So while the massive crowd was impressive and Seattle gave itself a shot at retaining the Cascadia Cup in the rivalry with Portland and Vancouver, picking up three needed points in the playoff race trumped it all.

The official attendance of 66,452 was the second largest for a stand-alone match in league history. There've been doubleheaders featuring international friendlies to go along with a league match, but in terms of a match between two MLS teams, the only one to top what Portland and Seattle drewwas the first match in league history when Los Angeles hosted New York at the Rose Bowl in 1996 in front of 69,255.

Those in attendance for the latest installment of the Cascadia rivalry included MLS commissioner Don Garber, who jumped on a plane Sunday morning just to take in the atmosphere and was headed back to New York after the match on a red-eye.

"I knew this would be a historic event as it would lead in to this weekend. ... It's just another one of these great moments. We've been saying that a lot lately, but it's really true," Garber said.

It was the second-largest crowd to see a Sounders match, behind a friendly against Manchester United in the summer of 2011. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, who was featured on a large Tifo from the Sounders' supporters before the match, was emotional trying to describe what the setting meant.

"In my imagination of heaven, this is it. A packed house, beating Portland by three, fans going crazy, it can't get better than that," Schmid said.

Seattle got the benefit of an own goal from Portland to take the lead when Mamadou Danso stepped in front of a cross intended for Montero in the 25th minute. Portland originally was charged with a second own-goal, this one by Jack Jewsbury, to give Seattle a 3-0 lead. But that goal was later changed and given to Montero with persistence likely the reason Montero earned his career-best 13th goal of the season. Montero was originally stopped twice by Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and appeared to barely get his toe on the ball at the same moment Jewsbury got to it.

The result was the same, though; a three-goal lead in a match Seattle mostly dominated.

"It was 10 minutes that created the result," Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson said. "Take 10 minutes out of the first half when we were absolutely horrendous defensively and didn't manage the game well at all and we were scrambling. We started to create some decent movement and created decent chances, but I think we handed it to them."

While two Seattle goals at least had the Timbers help, there was nothing but skill on Johnson's finish. Johnson made a quick cut to the middle of the penalty area where he was waiting for a long pass from Evans. The pass was on target and Johnson took the short-hop and guided it past Ricketts with his left foot.

"All over the field, they beat us to a lot of balls, they beat us to ball in our own box and scored," Portland defender David Horst said. "You're not going to win games like that. I think we were very surprised with the result."

Johnson, who tweeted on Friday night he had received a call-up to the U.S. national team, ran over near a section of Portland supporters holding a finger over his lips while the remaining 65,000-plus fans erupted in celebration.

Johnson said after the game he couldn't comment on his Twitter message. The U.S. is scheduled to announce its roster for upcoming World Cup qualifiers on Monday.

"I'm all for this rivalry thing now," Johnson said. "I couldn't wait to play."

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sounders, Timbers to get near-record MLS crowd

( 10-5-12)

The idea may be unsettling to Seattle Sounders fans, but with less than a month left in the regular season the priority for the playoff-bound Sounders is to avoid the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and not the Cascadia Cup.

Fortunately for Seattle fans, a win over rival Portland on Sunday would go a long way toward getting out of being the fourth-seed and the extra game that comes with it. It also keeps alive Seattle's hopes of retaining the trophy that goes to the winner of the Northwest rivalry involving the Sounders, Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Three points against the Timbers, in front of an expected crowd of 66,000 and one of the largest in MLS history, could have massive influence on how the next few weeks play out for the Sounders.

"We talked a number of weeks ago we set some goals for ourselves and one of those was to have that No. 2 spot in the west,'' Seattle midfielder Brad Evans said. "That's still within our grasp and something that we really want. If we can eliminate that playoff game that will benefit us in the long run.''

Seattle has already assured itself of a playoff berth, but by sitting in fourth place in the conference standings leaves itself in the uncomfortable position of facing an extra game when the playoffs arrive. As part of the playoff restructuring the Nos. 4 and 5 teams in each conference have a one-game playoff with the winner advancing to face the No. 1 seed in the conference semifinals.

As it stands now, Seattle would face Vancouver in the one-game playoff, before having to face likely Supporters' Shield winner San Jose.

That is not the scenario Seattle wants to face. But the Sounders do have one more game than any other Western Conference team and matches against Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles - the two teams directly in front of Seattle - still to be played.

Seattle won last year's Cascadia Cup, bu needs help to retain the title. Portland currently leads with eight points in the competition between the three Northwest squads, with Seattle second with six points and Vancouver in third. To keep the title, Seattle needs a victory over Portland and the Whitecaps to beat or tie the Timbers this month in Vancouver.

A draw by the Timbers on Sunday will give them the Cascadia title in an otherwise dreary season in Portland.

"It certainly helps us and keeps us in a rhythm of playing important games, so we can't relax and have an easy game,'' Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. "Every game is going to be a game that's going to require concentration and attention from the team, which is good because it keeps you sharp going into the playoffs.''

Only one other stand-alone MLS match has drawn more than 67,000 fans in league history. Los Angeles drew 69,255 for the first game in league history in 1996 and the Galaxy and New York played before 66,237 at Giants Stadium in 2007.

The league has seen larger crowds for doubleheaders featuring international clubs, but in terms of stand-alone matches Seattle will own two of the top four marks in league history after Sunday night.

"We've kind of become accustomed to having 3 or 4 games per year that were almost sellouts,'' Evans said. "Just a great opportunity. Like last year and games prior when we've had so many people, we've played well. For us this is a massive game once again. We're playing for a playoff spot and this will be a big one.''