Saturday’s loss to Kansas City capped a remarkable and eminently frustrating season for Real Salt Lake.
On one hand, as coach Jason Kreis and his players all attested after the match, the side had dramatically overachieved in making it to MLS Cup. On the other hand, Salt Lake lost two very winnable cup finals (MLS and US Open Cup) in painful fashion. Salt Lake ends the season with little in the way of hardware despite starting October of this year in the running to win a double or perhaps even a treble.
To put that in perspective… if four plays this season had gone differently (a ball bounced the other way, a referee made a different call, etc.), RSL could have swept MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, and the US Open Cup. In other words, this RSL season would have gone down as one of the best in league history. Instead, it will fade into obscurity within a few years..
From the start of the year, general manager Garth Lagerwey reminded media that this was “a rebuilding year” and one meant to replicate the Real Salt Lake of 2008. That squad overachieved before losing a winnable Conference Final as well.
Still, chatting with the players after the match, it was hard to escape the feeling that they were getting too good at talking about losing big matches. There were tears in the eyes, but for the veterans in the locker room (and the front office) this was just the latest in a long line of devastating losses. Coach Jason Kreis tried to put a positive spin on this dynamic by noting it was impressive how consistently Salt Lake circa 2008-2013 has come close to championships, but the RSL legacy clearly includes failure when things matter most.
A few years ago, Lagerwey said the mandate he’d received from Dave Checketts was to “consistently compete for championships.” Salt Lake has done that. And the good news for Salt Lake fans is that the side appears set for another 2-3 more years of challenging for titles in every competition, even if Jason Kreis decides to leave for NYCFC later this week.
If Salt Lake does so, the side will probably pick up at least one trophy in the coming years. The laws of probability should demand it, right?
I believe the math, but I’m still not sure. I suspect everyone in the RSL family feels the same way right now. And that reality – more than any one loss – must keep the Salt Lake front office, players and supporters up at night.