Brad Rock: Real Salt Lake's magic mojo goes up in smoke
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SANDY — Wow.
Or maybe it should be bow-wow.
The dog days of summer have hit Real Salt Lake.
RSL wrapped up the first half of its Major League Soccer season on Saturday with a 2-1 loss to San Jose. Injuries? Yes, Real has a few. But mostly it's egos that have been dinged. The best record in MLS went by the wayside, thanks to a pair of Earthquake goals in the last 15 minutes.
"I don't know of a time that I felt as mad as I do right now, to be honest with you," coach Jason Kreis said.
So go ahead, call him a poor motivator, label his players screw-ups. He might even agree at the moment.
If ever there were a more abrupt about-face than this one, Kreis doesn't want to know about it. A month ago his team was sailing, after getting a result in seven straight games -- five of them MLS wins.
Now there are cracks in the monument.
That monstrous home field advantage Real used to have? That's going the way of the dot matrix printer.
Kreis said he needs to remind his players to keep their focus late in games. Part of that came in a not-so-subtle way, at least if the writing on the white board in the locker room was any indication. It read: "What is our response?"
You mean besides blushing?
Then there was the Workers' Compensation Fund banner in the east grandstands that say, "Be Careful Out There."
Hard to say whether that was meant for workers or Real.
MLS is a dangerous place to hang out.
Exactly how Real responds is anyone's guess. Near the end of its strong run in May and early June, it lost a U.S. Open Cup match to the Minnesota Stars of the North American Soccer League. Sure, it was embarrassing, but it wasn't a league loss and RSL responded by hammering Chivas in Los Angeles, 3-0.
But upon returning to Rio Tinto Stadium, where Real used to be unbeatable, it first blew a 2-0 lead over the Galaxy, losing 3-2. Three days later came the loss to San Jose.
"Right now," said Kreis, "we're in a very bad way."
The coach didn't seem to mind teeing off on his team in the post-game press conference, in part due to this reason: He doesn't read the papers.
"Seems like every time everybody says we're in a great situation, we lose," he said.
So maybe he has a Facebook account.
Still, quite a few people know what's been happening, not the least being the 18,050 who showed up. Real's average attendance for the first half of this season is 18,723. And while that's only ninth-best in MLS -— smack in the middle — it's still 94 percent of capacity.
"Once people come here, we think they'll come back," said Real publicist Trey Fitz-Gerald.
Don't be too sure. The place was as quiet as a tomb late Saturday.
To say RSL was overconfident is probably oversimplifying. The plan was to readjust and reposition, following the loss to L.A.
"San Jose is a very capable team and scores a lot of goals," said defender Tony Beltran on Friday. "We just want to come in and get our home back on track and play good soccer."
They weren't far from doing so in the first half. Though RSL didn't score, it controlled the pace. But in the second half there was trouble: A scramble at the San Jose net that turned up nothing, a Javier Morales try that sailed over the bar, causing him to grab his head in dismay. A few other chances near the net.
So it went, until San Jose's Alan Gordon scored on a header in the 75th minute for a 1-0 Quakes' lead. And until Morales hooked a free kick into the top left corner of the net in the 79th minute, tying the score. And until Chris Wondolowski — MLS's leading scorer — put San Jose ahead again for good in the 84th minute.
Which brings up another bit of disconcerting news for Real: It is 0-3 this year in No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-ups.
That left Real — as the man said — in a bad place.
Unless, of course, Kreis is right about that other thing: They only lose when people think they're cruising.
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