It's been quite the week for RSL, hasn't it?
First, a trip to Kansas City for MLS Cup, where the team stood toe-to-toe with the Eastern Conference champions at their house in polar conditions for 120 minutes, only to end up going down by the slimmest of margins. About the time the team got home, we hear the words we knew were coming someday but hoped they wouldn't: Our revered head coach, Jason Kreis, is moving on to the next phase of his career in the bright lights of the Big Apple. On top of that, assistant coach C.J. Brown is heading back to Chicago where he is a living legend among Fire faithful. Yes, it's been a trying week for our RSL Family.
But in spite of all that's gone on lately, I have to tell you that I still feel very positive about the future of Real Salt Lake. Just like the final result of MLS Cup somewhat masks what was honestly a very impressive performance by RSL, the news of Jason Kreis' departure somewhat masks the fact that there are still a lot of positives for the organization moving forward. Now I don't want to downplay the importance of Jason Kreis or what a great coach he is; he inspired me personally and professionally and I will miss him more than I can write. But in spite of the loss of such a key figure, there are still many reasons to believe this club will be successful in 2014 and beyond.
- The technical staff, including the General Manager, is still here. Garth Lagerwey, widely regarded as one of the best GM's in MLS, was a significant force in the transformation of RSL into one of the league's elite and keeping it there. One of the reasons Salt Lake surprised everyone this year is the crop of new players performed much better than the historical average. Pretty much every healthy first-year player contributed in a significant way, and that is almost unheard of in MLS where you can expect a sizable percentage of new players to not pan out. That's a reflection of the hard work done by the technical staff, President Bill Manning, the General Manager, and Head Scout Andy Williams.
- The team is young, deep, unified, and should return largely intact. Thanks to all the contract work done last offseason, RSL is in a great position from a salary perspective, meaning there won't be a need to offload core players like last year. That doesn't mean all 30 will be back - that's not realistic - but it does mean that next year's team will largely resemble this year's team. With the young guys one year older and vets like Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Alvaro Saborio chasing spots on World Cup rosters, I expect RSL 2014 to be as good – or even better – than RSL 2013. Regardless of who takes over the vacant coaching roles, this team figures to make a lot of noise next year.
- The front office has placed a lot of weight in making sure the new coaching staff preserves the culture that has made RSL so successful. You've heard the sayings: Fantastically together. RSL Family. Fortune favors the bold. Believe. These aren't just flowery statements; they are mottos the club has lived by and used to turn this small-market wonder into a national soccer power. Whoever the new coach is, the expectation will be that the club continues to operate with the same culture that has been the source of the team's success. In other words, I expect the "feel" of RSL going forward will be more similar to the feel of the last few years than different.
No doubt it's been a tough week as we've mourned the loss of MLS Cup as well as our beloved coach, but looking forward to 2014 and beyond, I see plenty of bright days ahead.
Real Salt Lake announced on Tuesday night that longtime Head Coach Jason Kreis will not return to the club next season, leaving to take over New York City FC, which will enter MLS as an expansion club in 2015.
Media spoke to several RSL players at the Claret-and-Cobalt’s final availability of the season on Monday night, asking Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert what it’d be like if Kreis did indeed leave RSL.
All three gave really solid perspective on the situation, offering Kreis well-wishes while emphasizing that the team isn’t going anywhere. With or without Kreis, RSL still has a ton of talent and the team expects to contend for championships again in 2014.
Check out video of their answers above, and a transcript of their quotes below.
To borrow a phrase from Kries, Onwards and Upwards, #RSLFamily.
Captain Kyle Beckerman:
“He’s put in a foundation that we stand for next year and the year after that. It’s just the evolution of that. He’s part of the fabric of this club no matter where he is. I think we’ll continue where he left off, we’ll keep building and keep improving. That’s all we can do. We wish him the best, and really we want to just continue where we left off this year.”
Defender Tony Beltran
“It’s the end of an era of Jason building this club into something grand. It started with Mr. Checketts and Jason and [GM Garth Lagerwey] and they’ve done a fantastic job of shaping this into one of the most elite clubs in the league. That continues now with Mr. Hansen and that may continue forward now without Jason. If that happens we wish him all the luck in the world. He’s a fantastic man, a fantastic leader and that’s what happens with great men, they want new challenges and when presented with that opportunity I imagine that he may take it. If that does happen obviously we’ll be sad to see him go, but we’ll have to look at it as a new challenge ourselves. No longer will we have Jason leading us, I’m sure we’ll have another great man leading us, but it’s up to the players to now live up to things and say ‘Not everything’s just because of him, even though Jay may not be here we can still achieve and we can still do something special.’ That’s what he taught us, and that’s what were here to do.”
Defender Chris Wingert
“Out of respect to him and what he’s meant to this club, it’s going to be very different if he leaves. But does that mean that we can’t still win a championship? No, I think we have a great group here. Of course, anytime you lose a piece of the puzzle that’s that important, it’s going to be hard to replace. The new replacement isn’t going to be the same, but it can still be successful and we saw that from losing some guys last year that we didn’t want to lose. Nobody, none of the players or the staff, wanted to lose guys like [Jamison] Olave and Will Johnson and [Fabian] Espindola, guys of this caliber that meant so much to the organization. But, as you could see, we’re still capable of having a good team. We don’t want Jason to leave, but if he does we’ll be rooting for him elsewhere and happy for him that he’s making the best decision for him and his family.”
Real Salt Lake lost MLS Cup 2013 in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday, falling 1-1 (6-7) at Sporting Kansas City in a penalty kick shootout.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match
The shootout between RSL and Sporting KC went 10 rounds on Saturday, an MLS Cup record.
Real Salt Lake hit the woodwork a MLS Cup record three times in the run of play on Saturday, with Robbie Findley, Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales all hitting the woodwork during regulation. Counting Lovel Palmer’s penalty kick that bounced off the crossbar and out in the 10th round of the shootout, Real Salt Lake hit the woodwork four times on Saturday.
The temperature at kickoff at Sporting Park on Saturday was just 20 degrees Fahrenheit, another MLS Cup record.
Sporting Park was sold-out on Saturday, with 21,650 fans filling the stadium to capacity. The Real Salt Lake fans in attendance – the club’s entire 1,000 ticket allotment was sold and hundreds more RSL supporters bought tickets on the secondary market – was incredible throughout the match, singing and chanting through the cold, at times outshining the much larger contingent of SKC fans.
Saturday's MLS Cup loss at Sporting KC is still raw, and it still hurts. But RSL had plenty of great moments this season - one of which was forward Alvaro Saborio's opening goal on Saturday.
MLSsoccer.com did a very cool re-package of Sabo's strike, slowing it down and showing it from multiple angles. Give it a watch above.
With Real Salt Lake on the verge of the MLS Cup, taking stock of our tactical position is elucidating. Without further ado, how can RSL ensure a match in which they have the best chance to win?
1. Don't succumb to high pressure
Sporting KC play what is best described as a high-pressure system -- they start applying pressure with their forwards, and that translates as the ball moves into their space. This might tempt us into playing risky passes in a bid to escape that pressure, which won't work out in our favor. Risky passing from our side is best utilized when in dangerous positions -- moving into the final third, say -- and we need to maintain that approach.
Hesitancy in attacking positions will stymie our play, and overeagerness in the midfield could lead to Sporting KC on the receiving end of turnover-generated chances. It's a difficult balance to strike.
2. Gain control of the ball quickly when out of possession
The best way to both strike that balance and to ensure that difficult moments aren't turned into goals conceded is to minimize the amount of time we spend without the ball. Sporting KC may be nominally a possession side, but their best moments are likely to come quickly after they regain control of the ball. If we do our part to first minimize the frequency of those events, and to regain possession quickly ourselves, we will find ourselves in the ascendancy.
3. Don't let SKC dictate the pace
Much as we will want to avoid succumbing to SKC's high-pressure system, we'll also want to avoid letting them change the pace of the game. One needs only look back to our 2-1 loss to see a classic example of a team capitalizing on a shift in momentum; when Chris Wingert was sent off that day, they were able to slow the game down at will. Their approach play was patient, and though it took seven minutes of stoppage time, they found a breakthrough goal. And it wasn't because they harried us into submission, but because they shifted their play and we failed to meet their transition.
If we remain proactive and attempt to set the pace of the game ourselves, we will find ourselves in a stronger position already. We are not a side that accepts the opposition's pacing, but one that attempts to set the pace themselves -- at least when we do well.
Every MLS Cup is special. More so than any other game on the domestic calendar, this is the one where reputations are built and legends are born. With mere hours left before MLS Cup 2013, it's high time we looked at what winning this year's Cup would mean for RSL, its coaches and its players in terms of history.
- A win would make Real Salt Lake only the fifth team in MLS history to win multiple MLS Cups. This feat would be made even more impressive by the fact that RSL didn't have the chance to win nine of the 18 MLS Cups by virtue of not being in the league until 2005. Of the teams who have multiple MLS Cups to their name, only two of them (L.A. Galaxy, Houston Dynamo) have accomplished the feat since RSL entered the league. The other two multiple winners - San Jose Earthquakes and D.C. United - won their last MLS Cups in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
- A win would make Jason Kreis only the fifth head coach in MLS history to win multiple MLS Cups, joining Bruce Arena, Dom Kinnear, Sigi Schmid, and Frank Yallop as the only ones to accomplish the feat. Even more remarkable is that it looks like Kreis could still lace 'em up and play on a few MLS squads – the RSL manager will turn just 41 later this month.
- A win would make three MLS Cup championships for RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Ned Grabavoy, putting them in the rarefied air of MLS legends like Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, and Marco Etcheverry. In addition to their MLS Cups won with RSL in 2009, both players have a title with another team - Rimando won the 2004 MLS Cup with D.C. United, while Grabavoy hoisted the Anschutz Trophy in 2005 as a member of the L.A. Galaxy.
- A win would give RSL goalkeeper Josh Saunders three consecutive MLS Cups. Saunders started, played the full 90 minutes, and won the Cup final in 2011 and 2012 as a member of the L.A. Galaxy. RSL’s backup goalkeeper won’t have a chance to keep that streak alive this year, having torn his ACL in July.
While the 2013 MLS Cup could cement legacies and add hardware to the mantles of several RSL veterans, it's also tempting to think that this could be the first award for several RSL youngsters. How many trophies can you envision in the future for young talent like Devon Sandoval, Carlos Salcedo, Sebastian Velasquez, Luis Gil, Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia, and others? Maybe we'll see the beginning of some MLS legends being made. Just hours to go until we find out.
In two days Real Salt Lake will play its second MLS Cup Final in the club’s nine-season history. Multiple RSL players have lifted the Cup before, both with Claret-and-Cobalt in 2009 and with other teams through the years.
Below is a list of all the Claret-and-Cobalt players that have previously won MLS Cup titles:
Josh Saunders – The currently sidelined goalkeeper is looking to win his fourth MLS Cup title this Saturday. Saunders previously won MLS Cup 2005, 2011 and 2012 with LA Galaxy.
Nick Rimando – The RSL veteran goalkeeper has won two MLS Cup titles – MLS Cup 2004 with D.C. United and MLS Cup 2009 with Real Salt Lake
Ned Grabavoy – RSL’s dynamic midfielder has lifted the MLS Cup trophy twice before – first with LA Galaxy in 2005 and then in 2009 with Real Salt Lake
Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Wingert, Javier Morales and Robbie Findley all won MLS Cup 2009 with Real Salt Lake
The experience and leadership that comes with Real Salt Lake’s core group of veterans will surely come into play on Saturday, when a re-tooled and – in places – young squad looks to win the club’s second title at Sporting Kansas City.
For RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Khari Stephenson, Saturday’s MLS Cup at Kansas City will be a bit of a trip down memory lane. The Claret-and-Cobalt teammates both played the last time Kansas City advanced to MLS Cup, with Rimando manning the net for D.C. United and Stephenson starting and playing 45 minutes for the Wizards in a 3-2 D.C. victory at the Home Depot Center.
Stephenson’s Wizards took the lead in the sixth minute with a goal from defender Jose Burciaga Jr., but D.C. responded with three straight goals, including an own goal, scored in a seven minute span. D.C. forward Alecko Eskandarian scored the first two goals in the 19th and 23rd minutes, before Kansas City defender Alex Zotinca put one into his own net in the 26th minute. The score line remained the same until the 58th minute, when D.C. midfielder Dema Kovalenko received the first red card ever given in a MLS Cup match for blocking a shot with his arm on the goal line. Kansas City forward Josh Wolff converted from the penalty spot to pull the Wizards within a goal, but it wasn’t enough to stop D.C., which beat the Wizards 3-2 to lift the club’s fourth MLS Cup.
Let’s hope that Kansas City goes home disappointed again on Saturday. RSL and Sporting kick off at 2 p.m. MT at Sporting Park. The match will be broadcast on ESPN, UniMas and ESPN 700 AM.
The Salt Lake Tribune’s Chris Kamrani and Kurt Kragthorpe have been providing great RSL coverage all week, comprehensively covering the Claret-and-Cobalt as they march towards MLS Cup 2013 at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
Their strong coverage continued on Wednesday, with the pair of SL Trib writers sitting down with Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen. Kamrani wrote up Part I of II of a transcript of their interview with Hansen for SLTrib.com on Wednesday night, and he’s graciously allowed us to post a few highlights of the conversation below. Check out Part I of the transcript in its entirety here.
A couple of highlights of Hansen’s interview with the pair are below:
On the status of contract talks with RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis, whom Hansen said requested to wait until the end of the season to figure out his status with the club following the pair’s last round of negotiations before the Oct. 1 Open Cup Final:
Hansen: "I trust Jason will make the very best decision for his family and what mountain he needs to climb," he explained. "He’s climbed some pretty big mountains."
"Jason is remarkable," Hansen continued. "The cool part being Jason at this point in his career, at 40, having six years to the playoffs — no one’s done more — having competed now twice for the national cup — if he wins, he’ll be one of five — you have to stand back and say, ‘What’s his next mountain?’ And I honestly think if we win, and CONCACAF [Champions League] is possible, I think that gives us a teetering edge that there’s an objective for him to accomplish.
"I think as you get to be a great man, and Jason early in his life is, you start saying, ‘What mountains are there for me to climb?’ I really think it is that — I don’t think it’s a money issue whatsoever. I think it’s what mountains can you put in front of me? Maybe one of Jason’s goals is he wants to be men’s national team coach some time. What resume do you need to build to do that? I give Jason a lot of credit, he’s very thoughtful about how he does it. He’s totally focused on the game — he’ll think about that after the game."
On his favorite story from RSL’s Western Conference Championship series second leg win at Portland on Nov. 24:
Hansen: "Nat Borchers and his beard came up to me with fire in his eyes and said, ‘I love taking a win on somebody else’s field. It was just like a Viking had come onto that field, and was not going to let it go,"
We don’t want to steal too much of Kamrani’s post, so that’s all for here. Just go read the whole thing – trust us, it’s worth the time.