CHESTER, Pa. — Conventional wisdom would say anything other than a loss would be an acceptable result for a Real Salt Lake team traveling some 2,150 miles to play for the third time in six nights while coming off the emotional high of a CONCACAF Champions League win.
Then factor in that the host Philadelphia Union was not only well rested but in a desperate state, 16 points out of a playoff spot in the East with just 10 games remaining, making this clearly a daunting task for the visitors.
Which meant the flight back home today will be a smooth, comfortable one for weary RSL, which somehow managed to play the Union to a 0-0 draw, despite being outplayed most of the night. With offensive chances at a minimum, RSL called on its defense and goalkeeper Nick Rimando to preserve a second straight scoreless sheet.
That's really all coach Jason Kreis could ask for.
"I think the task before us tonight was incredibly difficult," said Kreis, as RSL moved within three points of leader San Jose in the Supporters' Shield race for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. "Tuesday was so emotional.?We had our backs against the wall and extended a great deal of energy to win there. Then we had to travel across the country and play a team as emotional as the Philadelphia team that had to do everything it could to win that game. I'm pleased with the result."
So was the rest of his team, which will relish a full week without a game before taking on D.C. United a week from today at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It's taken a year off my life," said laughing midfielder Kyle Beckerman of the grind that saw RSL drop a 2-1 decision to Dallas last Saturday, blank Tauro FC of Panama Tuesday, followed by this. "It's been a lot of fun and a good challenge. You know it's not gonna last forever, but it takes a toll.
"We knew they were gonna be a desperate team, because they're trying to get into the playoffs. We would've like to get a win but we'll take a draw."
With just seven games remaining until the MLS playoffs — as well as a few more in CONCACAF ?— Kreis would like to believe his team should be peaking heading down the home stretch. Then again, they've been an enigma all season.
"I look at where we stand in the league (three points behind San Jose in the West, which holds two games in hand) and I'm surprised," said Kreis, whose club managed just six shots on Philadelphia's Zac MacMath, who was called on for just three saves. "I just don't think we've scraped our potential.
"Maybe 4-5 games we've played to our maximum potential. There's a lot of reasons for it. Including the weather and the fact there's a lull because you're in a stretch so far from the beginning of the season and the so far from the end.?
"Thankfully now we only have seven games left, so maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is there. We've had three strong performances the last week and two positive results, so now I'm really ready to ratchet this thing up and get us ready for the playoffs."
This one will help a bit, despite the fact RSL hasn't won on the road since beating Chivas USA on June 16.
"It's another step forward for us," said Berkerman, as RSL needed to hold off a Union surge in the last 10 minutes and extra time to secure the point. "To get a result on the road is a good feeling. Now we can go home happy tomorrow and try to build off it."
This is when things start getting interesting.
"I know the potential of this team," said Rimando, who had to make just two saves on Philly's 13 shots. "I think once we get recharged from playing all these games in such a small period of time, you'll see a different team out there. Right now I'm not complaining. You see a zero on the board and we're three points out of the Supporter's Shield.
"But we're tired."
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