It wasn’t a distraction. This locker room is really strong. —RSL coach Jeff Cassar
SANDY — Nothing. Absolutely nothing, was on the scoreboard for Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
Yet it was still enough to get in the record books. And for coach Jeff Cassar to applaud his team’s effort, despite a scoreless tie against FC Dallas.
“I told them I was extremely proud,” he said. “The soccer wasn’t extremely great, but our commitment was huge. I’m really proud of them.”
Welcome to the wonderful world of soccer, where being equal to — but not necessarily better than — your opponent is still OK.
Few things are more disconcerting to traditional American sports fans than ties, and the related complications. Dave Checketts, the former Real Salt Lake owner, was a proponent of deciding winners, which in turn would make the standings far less convoluted.
“Americans,” he would say, “like winners and losers.”
As it turns out, Real Salt Lake is Exhibit A in the winning-only-kinda-matters department. Entering Saturday’s match, it was one victory away from matching the Major League Soccer record for games without a defeat, to start a season. Now RSL's 12-game unbeaten streak — with only six wins — is a milestone.
Yet Real is also still in second place.
RSL remained the lone undefeated team, but trails the Seattle Sounders by two points in the standings. The Sounders have three losses. They tied Vancouver on Saturday.
The best that can be said about soccer’s points system is that it does a nice job of mirroring life. In most sports, there are clear winners and losers every single day. But in life, that’s not how it works.
A lot of the time it’s just a draw.
So here’s to tenacity and consistency and the long-view approach. Here’s to grinding it out and accomplishing things in increments, not great looping strides.
Here’s to the power of splitting the difference.
Spurred less by tying a record than moving into a tie for first place, Real nevertheless looked unfocused the first half, firing off four shots against Dallas. Just before storm clouds blew back across the stadium, things started to darken in another way. Joao Plata, tied for the team lead in goals this year, stretched out on a breakaway in the 34th minute, but was cut off before he could get a shot. He pulled up limping slightly and in the 41st minute had to come out.
That put Real down four key players, counting those on national team duty.
Salt Lake and Dallas left the field looking like a couple of depleted teams, one down on players, the other down on its luck.
Night was coming on. Catching Seattle in the standings was a wish. Staying undefeated? In soccer, you always have two chances in three.
So nobody came terribly close to scoring, which ended in a result for RSL.
The odds had won again.
Though RSL has had challenges hanging onto leads this year, it has avoided losing like pop stars avoid books. Even when top players Alvaro Saborio, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando left to play for their national teams, RSL stayed out of the loss column.
But truthfully, the draws had started becoming monotonous. So were RSL player responses this week, when asked by reporters about tying the record. Their answer: Nice, but it was never their gooooooooooooal!
“It wasn’t a distraction,” Cassar said after Saturday’s game. “This locker room is really strong.”
Against slumping Dallas, 0-6-1 in the last seven, Real was also approaching some other records. Its 23 points were tied for the most in club history through the first 11 games of a season. Cassar has now matched the MLS record for longest unbeaten streak to start a career.
All on a night when his team didn’t even scare the other goalkeeper. And didn’t win.
It just took its record and went home.
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