Seeing Real Salt Lake's struggle to make the playoffs this year is a lot like watching old Quick Draw McGraw cartoons. Sheriff Quick Draw and his trusty deputy Baba Looey spend their days trying to rid the territory of bank-robbing, gunslinging varmints.
But all too often, Quick Draw ends up accidentally shooting himself. He stands there mortified, gunpowder on his schnoz, foiled by his own dimwitted mistakes.
Which is a lot like what is happening with RSL.
The misfiring peaked last Saturday night in a scoreless draw against league-leading Houston. Dynamo defender Andrew Hainault drew a red-card ejection in the 35th minute. Suddenly, surprisingly, RSL found itself in an enviable position. It was at home with a man advantage against the league's best team with 55 minutes left.
But 10 minutes later, the advantage was gone. After Robbie Findley was mugged near the net and no call ensued, RSL teammate Clint Mathis angrily spiked the ball. That was after he had already drawn a yellow card in the fourth minute.
Mathis was as gone as a '60s cartoon.
RSL lost him for the rest of that game, as well as this weekend's contest at New England. Teammate Jamison Olave will also miss Sunday's match after gaining his fifth yellow card of the season. He has been suspended two other times this year due to red cards.
Which brings to mind a line Quick Draw used regularly on Baba Looey: "I'll do the thinnin' (thinking) around here, and dooooon't you fer-git it."
The way things have gone this year with RSL, the effort is good but there's not much thinnin' taking place.
Real has been sabotaging itself all season. Trailing 1-0 in the first half of a May 2 match at Colorado, Olave drew a red card, leaving his team at a disadvantage the rest of the match. RSL ended up losing 2-0. On June 20, he exited in a 1-1 draw at Houston. Real was leading 1-0 when Olave drew his second yellow card after inexplicably smacking the ball out of a Houston player's hand on a throw-in.
In between Olave's foul-ups, defender Robbie Russell was ejected in a draw with Colorado. Forward Fabian Espindola also drew an ejection in July.
RSL has suffered six ejections due to second cautions this year, which means it has been getting carded while knowing full well it was already on thin ice.
The problem isn't merely the players. A fiery competitor, RSL coach Jason Kreis has struggled to transition from the pitch to the sidelines. That's understandable if you've watched him play or seen him at a press conference. The man is wound like a jack-in-the-box. In May, he earned a $1,000 fine and one-game suspension for criticizing officials. He was slapped with a $2,000 fine and two-game suspension in July for comments directed at officials — the largest coaching suspension in MLS history. Though his ejection didn't force the team to play shorthanded, it did send a message — the wrong one.
Last year, he was ejected late in a game and handed the automatic one-game suspension; he was also suspended and fined for criticizing officials in media interviews.
Kreis also drew a red-card suspension in 2007 for berating a ref.
Understandably, Kreis is frustrated that his team has lost games and potential points due to a lack of discipline. Still, players take their cue from their coach. It's chancy business when you talk about discipline and composure but run afoul of the authorities yourself.
Last weekend, though, Kreis was a model of constraint. But that wasn't the case with his club, which again had a player upend its plan. Mathis apologized to teammates at halftime but didn't wait around to explain his actions to the press, or, concurrently, the fans. He left before the locker room opened.
So here Real sits, hoping it can squeeze into the playoffs the way it did last season. But don't plan on it.
As any cartoon character can attest, turning a six-shooter on yourself can cause all sorts of damage.