Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis didn't waste time with civilities as he sat down for the postgame press session Saturday.
"Questions?" he said curtly.
There was a slight pause. Then someone launched into a question, but almost before it began, Kreis interrupted.
"You're gonna ask me what?" he said. "You're gonna ask me, 'Just like last year, right?"'
But come to think of it, not an altogether bad idea.
Not that, you know, anyone's keeping track. Except maybe those who were at Rice-Eccles Stadium last year, when RSL tied in its season-opener, thanks to a stoppage time goal by FC Dallas.
This year Real had the lead again, all wrapped up, ready to leave a winner on opening day for the first time in club history. But then the old bugaboo struck.
This year it was international star Blanco's shot in the added time that forced a 1-1 draw with Chicago and ruined what had been an impressive first-day performance.
"A special player makes a special play," said Kreis, "and I don't think he did anything else the whole game other than whine."
So it goes. Different Real Salt Lake, different attitude, different year.
So why does it feel so ... familiar?
Truthfully, there did seem to be a change this year. Unlike last season, when RSL regularly failed to play out its matches, and usually got beat statistically, that wasn't the case on Saturday. Salt Lake outshot the Fire (17-8) and got four times as many shots on goal (8-2). It spent the bulk of its time on Chicago's side of the field, attacking as though it meant business.
"I thought we played all-soccer," said Kreis.
That's what made it fairly weird. Never mind Real's only score was a goal in the 71st minute. It actually looked as though the team that has only eight of 28 players back from last year had pulled a switcheroo. It didn't run and hide. It didn't look like someone headed for the gallows.
It behaved like a team that expected to win.
"The reaction (last year) was 'Here we go again,"' said Kreis, who began last season on the roster. This year, he said, he expects a "very good reaction (next week). We're going to take the game to them."
Saturday's contest, of course, marked the start of Year Four of Real Salt Lake's learn-to-love-us campaign. This is a team that hasn't had much success, so for those that have stayed loyal, the love has gone mostly unanswered. But sometime this summer, Real expects to be in a new stadium in Sandy, named after some company with loads of money and a love of all things international. World Market Stadium or Pier One Imports Field might be nice but who's to say? It could be named after a foot fungus ointment, for all anyone knows.
Anyway, it wouldn't hurt matters if RSL were to win some games before then.
While Kreis and most everyone at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday would tell this year's team appears to have more savvy, the long-term effects remain to be seen.
You can't figure out the end to "Exodus" by reading the first page.
Some soccer experts say this year's team is better already. But that's faint praise, considering RSL has won just a handful of games in its existence. The first 90 minutes of any season tells you as much as the first five minutes tell you about a flight to Albuquerque.
It could get bumpy, or it could be as smooth as glass.
One thing is certain: RSL is in need of good things to happen fast. Not that it has made a habit of answering questions by the critics early. In 2005, it fought to a scoreless tie in its opener in New York. Next year came a 3-0 loss to Chivas USA. Then there was last year, and the scene that was eerily replayed on Saturday.
Still, all that stored-up negativity simply has to be gone some time, doesn't it? It can't stay forever. Just ask the Red Sox.But as the sun was sinking and the chants of "Blanco! Blanco!" by Chicago fans faded into the late afternoon, the sinking reality was this: While some things have changed, and others improved, the place where it matters most on the scoreboard it was business as usual.
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