SANDY — In MLS, there’s something to be said for continuity. Real Salt Lake reminded everyone of that Saturday night.
With all the hype squarely on big-name Toronto FC as it strolled into Rio Tinto Stadium with its first 2-0 start in franchise history, RSL went about its business in very mature fashion en route to the seemingly easy 3-0 victory.
“We obviously have a good group. There’s no surprises really with our team. Everybody knows our players,” said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. “Others teams are trying to do that, and keep together a core of players 'cause it takes time to jell with new players in and out all the time.”
Toronto has been a revolving door of coaches and players since joining the league in 2007, whereas Real Salt Lake’s core group of players has been together since the 2008 season.
With newcomers Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley, Julio Cesar and Gilberto, Toronto FC should be just fine this season, and will likely secure a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history. It’s going to take time, though.
Only five players in Toronto’s starting 11 on Saturday were even with the club last season, whereas every starter on Real Salt Lake was a major contributor a year ago.
RSL’s core group of players has been through the ringer and back over the past six years. They’ve won an MLS Cup. They’ve lost an MLS Cup. They experienced the highest of highs in drawing Monterrey in the Champions League in Mexico together, only to suffer the defeat of a lifetime together the following week at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Those ups and downs build character and camaraderie, something Toronto completely lacked at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.
Once the visitors went down 1-0 in the 10th minute, it seemed pretty clear the rout was on.
“TFC has never had to come back. They’ve had the lead in all their games, so we really wanted to see what they’d be like under the gun,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
That early goal disrupted Toronto’s positive early-season vibe, and from there, “I think our maturity shined through a little bit,” said Grabavoy.
Toronto learned a valuable lesson about facing adversity on Saturday, and will ultimately be a better team for it. RSL’s players have learned those lessons together over the past five to seven years, and Cassar said that’s been the driving force behind the team’s four-game unbeaten streak to start the year.
“Even more than the points — I think the points and all that stuff will come — I’m just really pleased with the spirit of the guys right now. They’re fighting hard right now, they’re fighting for 50-50 balls, and if you have that you can build on anything,” said Cassar.
RSL will put its 2-0-2 record on the line next Saturday when it travels to Kansas City in a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup.