KANSAS CITY, Kan. — One thing has clearly been established, thanks to Real Salt Lake’s shootout loss to Sporting Kansas City in the MLS championship match on Saturday: It knows good drama.
And how to keep it going.
The marketing people at the big agencies should be jealous. Note to Salt Lake City and the nation at large: “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?”
The record for the 9-year-old franchise stands at two trips to the MLS Cup final and two penalty-kick finishes, after tying 1-1 in regulation.
Not enough suspense?
How about wondering if your coach and general manager will be around for next season?
The good news for Real is that it is expected to be back with largely the same lineup and a year’s more experience for young players that came along faster than expected. The bad news was Saturday’s loss. But even that wasn’t terribly disheartening.
It wasn’t until Lovel Palmer’s shot narrowly missed that it was decided. But if you ask coach Jason Kreis, the winning happened before Saturday’s match even began.
Everything else was dessert.
“I’m the kind of person who means what he said and says what he means,” Kreis said. “There is no way for this team to lose. Just by getting to this finals is a remarkable statement about what this group of players has been able to do.”
Exactly what has it been able to do?
Crowd its way into even non-soccer fans’ consciousness, that’s what.
Even those who wouldn’t know a corner kick from Corner Canyon would have to hand it to Real. On a year when it wasn’t supposed to be playing in December — and maybe not even in the playoffs — the team hung on until the end, when hopes of a second title in five years froze in their tracks.
Kreis entered the interview room after the match, wiping away tears. Whether that was due to emotion or just the freezing temperatures is anyone’s guess. But there were no complaints from the man widely considered bound for New York. His club has fashioned itself into a household name in Utah. When Real came to Salt Lake in 2005, it could have been confused with a tourism slogan: the real Salt Lake.
Instead, it has set itself as Utah’s most consistently good professional team, thanks largely to Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerway — who is also a hot commodity.
Look out, Gordon Hayward, someone might be after your endorsement deals.
Even in losing, RSL made it appealing. It couldn’t just settle in regulation. That would have been far too pedestrian Salt Lake soccer. Instead, Real mimicked its penalty shootout title game of 2009, except it won the first time around.
“It happens so fast,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “You take the kick thinking it’s going to go in and when it doesn’t, it just turns a dream into a nightmare.”
Is that due to luck or ability?
“A little of both,” he said. “You’ve got to make some plays, but you need a little luck, and it just wasn’t on our side today.”
Although playing for a championship of any sort is reason to celebrate, Saturday’s contest also carried some unusual forebodings. For instance, is it possible for a man to freeze while kicking a soccer ball? Headline in the Kansas City Star: “Extreme wind chill, low temperatures make for bitter cold weekend in KC.”
Colder still for Real Salt Lake.
The uncertainty over Lagerway’s and Kreis’ future hung like a pending storm.
The game time temperature locked in at 20 degrees, with a wind chill of 12.
Though Sporting Park has a heating system for just such days, Kreis said conditions were bad.
Conditions in the locker room?
Not so good after the loss.
“I would advise you, if you have a choice, not to go in there,” Kreis said, only half joking.
But the locker room really wasn’t all that bad. Just silent. Yet no matter how quiet it got, RSL was still making noise.
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