May 24 was a devastating night for Real Salt Lake.
In what should've been at minimum a tie with a late one-goal lead on the road, RSL collapsed surrendering two goals in the final seven minutes in a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas.
Afterward, coach Jason Kreis was nowhere to be found at Pizza Hut Park refusing to speak with the media. His players, however, didn't dodge media inquiries despite their obvious frustration.
"It stings right now, we just have to get over it," said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. "Today I felt was the day we would get out of the losing ways on the road. We took a baby step today, hopefully next time we'll go all the way with it."
Dema Kovalenko was equally as distraught.
"It's hard. This one hurts a lot. I think everyone put so much work into today, and it's disappointing to lose like this," said Kovalenko.
On the bus after the match, the players spoke candidly amongst themselves and pledged to learn from the loss.
Whether it's a coincidence or not, Real Salt Lake hasn't lost since, and Saturday's win over New England upped the club's record to 3-0-2 since succumbing in the Texas heat on May 24.
Beckerman believes the improvement is proof of RSL's renaissance the past month, boosting the club to within two points of the L.A. Galaxy for the Western Conference lead.
"I just feel like we've been learning a lot, we've really taken stuff that's happened in different games in the past and learned from it a lot," said Beckerman.
That was never more evident than with the way RSL killed off Saturday's win against the league-leading Revolution following Tino Nunez's go-ahead goal in the 60th minute.
"Our last win against Chivas, we got that goal and we tended to play defense for the second half. Tonight we didn't just sit back and play defense. We kept attacking, we kept trying to keep possession, I think we're just growing as a team. It's a great sign," said Beckerman.
It was such a solid final half hour against New England, stoppage time wasn't even a stressful time. The three extra minutes flew by as RSL calmly maintained possession until the final whistle.
Late-game collapses against Chicago and Dallas earlier this season obviously taught the team the wrong way to protect a lead.
"Now we find ourselves on a little roll, we've just got to keep it going and keep learning," said Beckerman.
Another lesson RSL has seemingly learned is neutralizing a team's biggest threat. Kovalenko said that wasn't the case with ties against Chicago or Los Angeles, but it was a concerted focus against New England. With Shalrie Joseph and Taylor Twellman both absent for the Revolution, the home side deemed Steve Ralston as the only real threat.
Kovalenko's job was to keep an eye on the veteran Ralston the entire match, and he did an admirable job limiting the attacking midfielder to zero shots.
"That's the thing we have to recognize, as a team and a coaching staff, the strong points of teams and close guys down," said Kovalenko.RSL returns to action next Saturday at Kansas City.
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