Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SANDY — For a team that has acted just a shade too cool for school for the last few weeks, this was as good a time as any to sweat.
And it worked. Sweat is good. In the right situation, it's healthy.
In this case, it's just what the doctor ordered.
That Major League soccer schedule is still iffy with eight games to go. If Real Salt Lake is to do anything in its home league, it will have to get back to its old late season tricks. For now it can say it didn't fold up and go home from CONCACAF play at the first opportunity.
The bigger and more talented Salt Lakers overran Tauro FC of Panama, 2-0 on Tuesday at Rio Tinto. So they're still alive in international play. They can work on the closer-to-home stuff this weekend in Philly.
Asked how he felt about four straight losses, followed by a win, RSL coach Jason Kreis sounded only half-joking when he said: "Why'd you have to bring up the first part?"
You have to hand it to Kreis, he isn't really one to put whipped cream on garbage. By the time Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League match had arrived, he and his team had pretty much stopped excusing recent poor play. Thanks to injuries, cards, suspensions and national team duties, Real has provided Kreis' favored starting lineup for just 59 minutes all year.
Largely, though, there have been absences due to absent-mindedness, i.e. not getting in a sweat. That didn't happen on Tuesday. Kreis was in no mood for excusing by the time the game rolled around. Everyone from management to ushers seemed to agree: something had to change.
So much so that Kreis said he had become "emotional" in team meetings, last week, trying to motivate. At one point Real was 7-1 at home this season. But then things began to melt. Since then Real has been spotty at home and awful on the road, going 3-8-1 in its last 12 matches, causing Kreis to tell the media his team had become comfortable, creating "a cushion" with early wins.
Thereafter, his team couldn't get off the couch.
Not only was RSL 0-4 in recent matches, but one was a Champions League loss to Herediano. That defeat put Real in a bad spot in CCL group play. A loss on Tuesday would have been a death knell on RSL's hopes of advancing.
It has been a season of feast or famine for RSL. It started with sizzle but went cold as the days grew warmer. Most disconcertingly is that Real seemed to have lost its mojo at home. The place where Salt Lake once terrorized opposing teams had become just another stadium. Fortress, schmortress. Going into Tuesday's match, Real had lost five home matches this year.
That's not a fortress, it's a rambler with an add-on.
As Kreis put it on Monday, RSL had its back against the wall.
"There is only one result that is acceptable," he told reporters.
It was only moments into the game when it became obvious that the mysterious Panamanian team – which Kreis admitted he knew little about – was, well, out of its league. When Tauro wasn't falling and flopping, it was desperately trying to fend off Real's repeated assaults on the goal.
RSL dominated possession in the first half, doing everything short of scoring. Which was both good news and bad. On one hand, RSL had the ball over 60 percent of the time and out-shot Tauro 11-2. But it had little to show except a lot of close calls.
Kreis said his team was "driving ourselves mad out of frustration at not scoring at all in the first half, after so many chances."
But finally, it got loose, in the 48th minute when Alvaro Saborio got the rebound score. The matter was decided 10 minutes later on Kyle Beckerman's left-footed kick from distance.
After weeks of trouble, this one looked like a mismatch.
For Real Salt Lake, it finally looked like home.
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