By Jae Groll
Photo from fOTOGLIF
If Real Salt Lake fans thought last year was an exciting ride, my only advice to you is “Hang on to your scarves!”. This season is shaping up to be just as emotional and mercurial as last.
After losing to the Columbus Crew on April 24th things looked bleak for Real Salt Lake. So bleak, that even the most ardent Real Salt Lake supporter could not have dreamed that by the time the World Cup break started in June, RSL would be sitting in second place in the West and riding a 19 game home unbeaten streak.
Coach Jason Kreis has done a masterful job of getting this team to come together as a unit and start producing the type of results expected from a club fit to be called defending champions. His ball control offense has proven not only effective, but highly frustrating for opposing teams.
Every season is filled with ups and downs and RSL has had an entire years worth of roller coaster rides in 3 months. The season started with a bang. RSL picked up right where they left off last season with a 3-0 win over San Jose. That is when things started to go brown as they say.
At the beginning of the season, coach Kreis said that the first 5 games, against some of the leagues best competition would be a measuring stick of how strong the squad would be in 2010. Needless to say, the measuring stick looked more like a grade school ruler after those 5 games.
April was brutal for the team as they only managed to garner 1 point in 4 league games. The loss to LA was especially heart breaking as it ended a 6 game unbeaten streak against the Galaxy. Edson Buddle hit a double including a late game half volley that left RSL in tears. 2010 looked like another season of RSL fighting and clawing their way to a playoff spot.
As the saying goes April showers bring May flowers and May was the month that RSL bloomed into a team to be feared. While always tough at the formidable Rio Tinto Stadium, a scrappy win at Chivas USA saw fortunes turned. With 15 points in 5 matches the club soared up the tables on a 5 game winning streak setting the club record.
So, if April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?…….. Pilgrims! Thank you ladies and gentleman! I’ll be here all week. Please, try the veal. Better than Pilgrims, a ‘Real’ Thanksgiving was had for RSL by beating the Galaxy and ending their seemingly infinite undefeated run.
Was Javi offside? I will let the fans duke that one out on any number of internet discussion forums. The point is moot. The game is in the books and the win was, oh, so important for RSL. Yes, the Galaxy were missing some key components and a huge chunk of their salary cap for the match-up at Rio Tinto, but lest we forget, RSL were missing some quality as well. Key players Kyle Beckerman (injury) and the newly minted US National player Robbie Findley (World Cup) were both gone from the side.
Beckerman is the team’s rock. His holding midfield position has not been truly replaced since he went out 19 minutes into the game at Chivas USA. A torn peroneal tendon could be the body part that decides RSL’s season. While Beckerman has been practicing lightly, the specter of surgery is still hanging above not only his head, but the future of RSL as well. If he ends up not being able to come back by the end of the World Cup break, look for general manager Garth Lagerwey to add a player during the summer signing period.
The league wide break could not have come at a better time for RSL. The team has several players battling nagging injuries and a host of road games on the docket. They will use this time to heal and refresh some tired legs before donning the armor against the Earthquakes on June 25th.
My observations up to this point of the season.
Player of the season: No debate here. Alvaro Saborio. After Yura Movsisayn left to play in the Danish Super league, many RSL fans were worried where the goals would come from in 2010. Robbie Findley can carry a load but ask Rob Base, “It takes two to make a thing go right”. Enter Saborio. The Tico has been a breath of fresh air for an already strong club. He has racked up 5 goals and 4 assists while playing in every league match this season. His cool finishing and play making abilities do nothing but serve compliment to Garth Lagerwey and RSL’s scouting staff.
High point: Javi’s goal and strip tease against the Galaxy. It was an ugly and lucky win but sometimes you take ‘em any way you can get ‘em. I just hope that yellow card doesn’t come back to haunt later in the season.
Low Point: The 1-0 loss to the Crew capping off a miserable month of April. After this game I know I was not alone in dreading what this season might bring for RSL.
Save of the season: Nick Rimando’s brilliant save on a vicious Juninho dipping strike saved the 3 points for RSL and snuffed out the dying hopes of the Galaxy salvaging their record tying unbeaten streak.
Goal of the season: Javier Morales with a thunderbolt against San Jose in the season opener. As the clock struck 13’ he took a square ball from Espindola and let loose a half volley from 30 yards out to start the 2010 campaign in grand style.
Number to be excited about, 22: 22 goals scored ties RSL for best in the league with a game in hand against the scoring leaders. RSL sit in second place in the league and in the west. They are playing the best soccer in franchise history. Jason Kreis, preaching his Arsene Wenger like style of play, has molded this squad into a force to be reckoned with.
Number to be worried about, 2: 2 wins is all RSL have mustered in 7 road games. Great teams strive to win 50% of their road games. With the majority of their remaining games away from the comfy confines of Rio Tinto, they have to find a way to grind out wins on the road. Looking at the form the Galaxy are in this season, RSL are going to have win on the road in the playoffs to successfully defend their title. Learning how to do it in the regular season is critical.