Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SANDY Perhaps in the end it was too good to be true.
Perhaps advancing to the MLS Cup was too much to ask for a franchise that only qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, in the 90th minute no less.
Even though it looked like destiny was smiling on Real Salt Lake in the past month, it must've been smiling on New York a little bit more.
New York, the team that snuck into the playoffs as the wildcard from the East on the last weekend as well, pulled off another improbable road victory Saturday night, prevailing 1-0 over RSL in the Western Conference final in front of a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium.
It was a match RSL absolutely dominated after surrendering an early goal, but the home side could never put away the critical equalizer to reward the goal-starved crowd.
"Being around the game long enough that's just how the game goes. I've been involved in so many of those in my career," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, whose team outshot New York 24-11 and hit the post three times.
With the victory, New York advances to next Sunday's MLS Cup at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., against the Columbus Crew. It is New York's first trip to the Super Bowl of Major League Soccer.
"I wasn't ready to be done yet. I hope we go into the offseason feeling very good about a lot things, but I hope we go into the offseason a little bit angry about the fact we probably could've and should've gotten a little further," said Kreis.
Until Saturday night, it sure seemed that destiny was smiling on Real Salt Lake. Not only did it advance out of the first round with a spirited win over Chivas USA, it then got to host the Western Conference final when New York shocked two-time defending champion Houston in the other first-round series.
Many believed a win was a foregone conclusion against a foe Real Salt Lake was probably more talented than. As Kreis reiterated in the post-game press conference though, soccer can be a very cruel sport.
New York struck first in the 28th minute, and from there it was a Real Salt Lake onslaught. The Red Bulls dropped one guy behind the ball during the entire second half, but RSL couldn't finish any of the abundant number of chances.
"Watching them over the season I've seen them do it on plenty of occasions so I think they probably feel pretty comfortable doing that, dropping off and playing a negative match as they did in the second half and it's too bad we couldn't punish them for it," said Kreis.
RSL banged one shot off the post in the first half and two more in the second half with the Red Bulls in a full-blown defensive shell.
The most agonizing miss of them all was a slow-rolling shot from Robbie Findley in the 81st minute that appeared at first to be going in. The shot ended up rolling into the post just as Will Johnson got there to try and put it away, and the ball bounced away harmlessly.
In the dying minutes of second-half stoppage time, Morales hit another shot off the unfriendly left post. He also hit the post in the first half.
Those two weren't the only ones who missed out on sending RSL to its first MLS Cup. Nine of RSL's 10 starters in the field had at least one shot.
"It was just one of those nights ... I don't know what else you can do. I drove myself to laughter over there on the bench it was either that or cry," said Kreis.
In the end though, New York was just good enough to earn its second straight road shutout.
New York is still the only team Real Salt Lake has never beat in its four-year history with a 0-3-6 record.
New York scored the game's only goal in the 28th minute capitalizing on a bad defensive decision by Jamison Olave. For realistically no reason whatsoever he dove in on John Wolyniec to win the ball near the left sideline but missed badly. His miscue sprung Wolyniec into the box unimpeded. He sent a ball across the top of the 6-yard box with Nick Rimando initially getting a save on it only to have Dave van den Bergh tap in the rebound for the 1-0 lead.
It was van den Berg that also scored the first goal in Rio Tinto Stadium history last month in the 1-1 draw.
"I think Jamison tried to make a play on it and tried to get it to before their forward and ended up missing," said Kreis. "(van den Berg) played a shot I thought Rimando made a good save on and unfortunately left it out in front for van den Bergh to score."
From that moment on, the Red Bulls had one objective and RSL couldn't quite break them down."That's the kind of soccer they play. They're not going to play attractive soccer. We knew that coming into this game. We knew it wasn't going to be a game where they came out and attacked us it was going to be a game where they pumped balls forward. They were trying to get a cheap goal and that's what they got," said Borchers.