Brad Rock: Real Salt Lake continues to be a team you can't ignore
Despite never ending stories about conference alignments, the NBA lockout and Jimmer Fredette, Real Salt Lake continues to make news of its own, regardless.
There was the sensationally sad long-term injury to Javier Morales, the ridiculously long home win streak, the dizzying attempt to win the CONCACAF Champions League and, of course, the retirement of coach Jason Kreis's number.
Interesting stories, one and all, this year.
No matter how much commotion the other teams in Utah create, Real just keeps coming.
RSL wrapped up the first half of the regular season Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium with a 2-0 win over FC Dallas, the league's hottest team. It was a story impossible to ignore: Two growing rivals, both still in the race for the league's best record. The win capped a high profile week in which RSL made news amid the almost obsessive coverage of all things Jazz/Jimmer/Utes/Cougar-related. That's not easy. With the Jazz making two lottery picks this year, college teams ramping up their marketing efforts and Fredette being so doggone Jimmerpromotable, what's a pro soccer team to do?
Just what RSL has done, probably.
At the halfway point, it's obvious RSL is a dangerous team. How dangerous? Very, if you ask Dallas. The Texas team came into Saturday's match having won nine of its last 13 games. Meanwhile, RSL was struggling to score goals. It registered an OK-but-not-great four ties and one win in the last five outings.
How good is Real? Stay tuned. It certainly knows about adversity, having lost a top player early in the season and others along the way, for various reasons. Yet RSL still seems to have hit upon a couple of usable tenets. Rule No. 1 for staying in the news: Don't lose. Rule No. 2: Do something strange.
You'll have people begging for more.
Real fulfilled the first rule right up until April 27, when a 37-game home undefeated streak finally ended at the hands of Monterrey. Its MLS home unbeaten streak ended at 29 with a loss to Seattle on May 28. While the undefeated streak is over, Salt Lake has remained competitive, holding down the fourth-most points in the Western Conference.
As for Rule No. 2 — doing strange things — that's working out nicely, too. First, RSL overcame an early two-goal, one-player deficit to tie New England on Monday. That's not only strange, it's harrowing. The same night, Real retired the Kreis's number. Yes, we know. That's sooooo un-international. Trust the Americans to ignore tradition. Teams just don't do that kind of showy stuff overseas.
Numbers represent positions, not people.
But a ceremony was held nonetheless on Independence Day to retire Kreis' number and declare RSL's independence from Old Soccer's eccentricities. As G.M. Garth Lagerway noted, "It drives me crazy these people who say we've got to do everything like Europe. Why? Why don't we try to beat Europe?"
That remark made plenty of headlines, too.
In truth, Kreis seemed visibly relieved when ceremony week was over on Saturday. Previously, he got a contract extension which will take him through 2013. That was fine by him. The number retirement? That was fine, too, in an uncomfortable sort of way.
"The ceremony, I think, wore on me a little bit. I think you saw an emotional coach, probably overly emotional," he said of Monday's game with New England.
On Saturday he had the challenge of trying to beat the league's hottest team and perhaps Real's biggest obstacle. Time to refocus. A Dallas win in Texas last season ended a then-best record of 10 undefeated games for RSL. Later in the year, RSL ended a 19-match unbeaten run by Dallas. They met in the playoffs, with Dallas prevailing.
So it was on Saturday that RSL only heightened the rivalry, thanks to a goal in the 47th minute on a Bill Bucknerish flub by Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman.
Fabian Espindola added another goal in stoppage.
The win ended a particularly eventful week in an increasingly eventful year. It's a week Kreis can now truly enjoy. Asked if he would rather win games or accept awards, Kreis gave a predictable but forceful answer.
"Win games," he said, then added, "Win games. Win games ... 1,000, 100 percent."
Meanwhile, up in the rafters and down on the field, the news just keeps coming.
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