Real Salt Lake: High expectations, pressure got best of RSL in playoffs

Published: Monday, Nov. 8 2010 8:59 p.m. MST

RSL coach Jason Kreis reacts to a call in his team's playoff game against Dallas.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SANDY — Jason Kreis didn't waste any time reflecting on Real Salt Lake's 2010 campaign in his post-game press conference last Saturday.

He believes expectations might've got the better of his team in the playoffs, but it was quite a remarkable season nonetheless.

"Yeah, we won't have a chance to repeat as MLS Cup champions. But, my goodness, we've done so many incredible things this year and nobody can ever take this away from us," Kreis adamantly declared during his 10-minute chat with the media following his team's playoff ouster by FC Dallas.

He said there was no shame in losing to an FC Dallas team that was playing great soccer. It's a message he tried to convey to his players in the final weeks of the season, but he's not sure if the message ever really sank in.

RSL came within a whisker of beating FC Dallas, but in the end Kreis believes the team was a victim of its own expectations.

"I really feel like in the Colorado match and both of these Dallas matches — well, only the first half in this Dallas match — but the entire game down there we were playing with this angst — what if we lose?" said Kreis. "What if we lose this series and don't repeat as champions?

"We've had this great season, we're the Cup holders, and we expected more of ourselves. And that's different than it ever has been here, and I don't think ultimately that we dealt with that the greatest."

In years past, Kreis said Real Salt Lake played with no fear in the playoffs, and for good reason. That wasn't the case this year, however. RSL was pegged by most soccer pundits as the team to beat in this year's MLS playoffs, but it didn't even make it out of the first round.

"I think we played a little tentatively and a little scared, 'cause 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 Kreis.

The final question posed to Kreis in the postgame press conference was whether he thought it was too early to reflect on the past season, and he said absolutely not.

"Things that are going to stand out to me are to play Cruz Azul home and away, and to beat them in that series was hugely important," said Kreis. "To watch the highlight DVD the other night and see 13, 14 players on our team scored goals this year and contribute in a meaningful fashion was amazing."

"To see the way the guys truly bought into what we're all about here, even the new guys, and that's not an easy thing to do. To sacrifice yourself and your ego for the larger picture of the team is not an easy thing to do.

"There was maybe one time where I had to have half a discussion about commitment, and too often in the past I've had to have way too many of those conversations with the guys," he said. "So it was nice this year."

Make no mistake, though, Kreis is bitterly disappointed in the way Real Salt Lake's season ended, but certainly not in the season as a whole.

e-mail: jedward@desnews.com

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