It was a polished, composed, finished performance, drawing a roar of approval from the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday night. Pop star David Archuleta was everything the people wanted, both before and after Real Salt Lake's 1-1 draw with Colorado.
The problem was what happened in the middle.
After scoring in the 79th minute, RSL surrendered a goal nine minutes later, extending its winless streak to seven.
This season, RSL has mostly followed the lyrics of Archuleta's song called "Barriers":
This mountain we've been trying to climb
It's never ending
Just can't do nothing, gotta do something. . .
Do something indeed. Like, say, trade someone? Bring back 68-year-old soccer legend Pele? Put shrink-wrap around the opposing net?
"We're a long way from where we want to be," said RSL owner Dave Checketts.
It's been that kind of year for RSL, a season of missed chances, which has even caused coach Jason Kreis to wonder about his decisions. Real has scored just one goal on the road.
That's not a slump, it's a hibernation.
It would have helped a lot if the six goals Real scored in one game in April could have been spread out over a few weeks. Talk about spoiling your appetite by eating cake before dinner.
Many think say it's time for a shake-up. Club officials aren't being specific. Clearly, the team that surprised everyone late in 2008 hasn't made a dent in 2009.
Thanks to yellow card suspensions to midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales, it wasn't the same team on Saturday, to be sure. The game was a truncated version of the Rocky Mountain Cup matchup that usually happens. While RSL was lacking the aforementioned midfielders, Colorado's Pablo Mastroeni (remember the guy who got at odds with Checketts in 2006?) and Conor Casey were away with the U.S. National team.
A star-studded night?
Sure, if you count Archuleta.
You have to hand it to Real. It's doing what it can to attract an audience – and it did. A crowd of nearly 20,000 showed up. In the midst of its struggles, the club still managed to bring in teen heartthrob and Murray native Archuleta — which accounted for an inordinate number of star-struck teenage girls, who wouldn't know a header from head lice.
An hour before the game – and long before Archuleta appeared — you could hear girls squealing and calling "David!"
Come for the "Idol" worship, stay for the soccer.
Archuleta started things off with a nice, clean version of the national anthem, wearing a personalized RSL jersey. Then the game began. Nothing much changed there. Pretty much standard stuff for this year's club. It couldn't hold off Colorado after taking the lead. After the game, Archuleta sang several songs, including "A Thousand Miles" — which happens to be how far RSL is from where it wants to be.
Meanwhile, there was the issue of the Rocky Mountain Cup, symbol of supremacy in the battle between Colorado and Salt Lake. Obscure as that may sound, apparently the players take it seriously.
Enough so that in 2006, Rapids midfielder Mastroeni celebrated by unveiling what Checketts termed "obscene" gestures to the RSL crowd after a win.
Nothing like a little taunting to take a rivalry to another level.
Since then, it has been a spirited affair, with Colorado now leading the series 7-5-4.
So it was against a backdrop of glamor (Archuleta) and desperation (RSL) that Real took the pitch on Saturday.
Club officials had been saying all week they weren't looking to make changes, but if things got to a certain point, they would.
Seems they've reached that point. RSL is winless on the road this year and now has two road games ahead before returning to Sandy.
"I fully expect it to turn around," said Checketts.
Maybe things will indeed change. The season stretches into late October.
But more and more, it looks like they might have to get by on the entertainment.
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