There's an increased level of expectations this year for Real Salt Lake, and it's not just internal optimism. Throughout the week, media outlets across the country have been releasing their Major League Soccer predictions for the upcoming season, and RSL is getting a lot of love.
Virtually everyone expects RSL to finish in the top two in the Western Conference, with many predicting the club to unseat Houston for the top spot in the West.
For a franchise that's never finished with a winning record — RSL was 10-10-10 last year — it's indeed a strange situation to be in. Does the team have what it takes to realize those expectations?
With virtually every contributor back from a year ago, and on the heels of a run to the Western Conference Final in 2008, it's easy to understand see why RSL is being so highly touted.
"It's something we should try not to pay attention to, but sometimes it's tough. You're going to hear the rumblings around the league and hearing what the media are saying," said RSL defender Chris Wingert. "But at the same time we do have confidence in our team, and the expectations among the team are high. But we also realize how tough it us. We've got to remember, and we do, how tough it was just to make the playoffs last year."
Here's an example of some of the praise being heaped on RSL.
Soccerbyives.net has the club listed third in its power rankings.
Yahoo Sports pegged RSL to win the West.
Goal.com envisions a second-place finish in the West for RSL.
These lofty predictions aren't of any concern to RSL coach Jason Kreis.
"We need to focus on how we feel about ourselves and not be concerned about how everybody else thinks about us and expectations they have of us," said Kreis. "We'll lay some pretty simple goals in front of the guys. I'm just somebody that doesn't like that word expectation. I don't want them to have expectations of themselves and I don't want to have expectations for them. But there will be some clearly defined goals put in front of them."
After an unlikely late-season push into the playoffs last year and nearly reaching the MLS Cup, it's hard to imagine the playoffs won't be one of those clearly defined goals.
"We're confident from where we finished last year, confident from what we've done this preseason so far. The results always breed confidence. We got a lot of good results at the end of last season and a lot of good results this preseason," said Kreis.
RSL opens the season on Saturday, March 28, at the expansion Seattle Sounders. The rest of the league kicks off the season this week.
ENDLINES: RSL plays an exhibition game this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Austin Aztecs at 1 p.m. The match is free to the public. ... RSL rookie Raphael Cox proved himself to be the fittest player on the team Wednesday by winning the beep test. Tony Beltran came in second in the grueling fitness test.