Sorry this is a bit late as it seems somewhere along the way back from Seattle I picked up a bit of a bug and have been focusing on battling it the last couple days.
So it would be easy to say that I am thankful for the great playoff run, or that RSL found a way to win on the road (if only in the playoffs), being thankful for the cup would be to easy as well. No I am thankful for two things this year when it comes to Real Salt Lake.
First up, I am thankful that so many of the players have bought into the Jason Kreis mentality of the team being the star. It is easy to look at Kyle Beckerman as the star but it wasn't him who scored the goal to get RSL back to even on Sunday, that was Robbie Findley (who should be getting a look from Bob Bradley). It is easy to see the saves of Nick Rimando, but it was another Robbie who scored the winning PK, yes Robbie Russell with his 1500+ minutes of playing time but no goals.
RSL fans know Javier Morales but when he went down it was Clint Mathis (RSL's version of old faithful) who stepped in and provided several quality chances and some great energy when needed most. When Will Johnson went down at the half to food poisoning, it was Ned Grabavoy the off season pickup that nobody was talking about who stepped in and was rock solid as usual.
When you compare the RSL roster to that containing names like Beckham, Donovan, Lewis, and Berhalter all names big enough that most dedicated US Soccer fans know the names, it was like so many experts predicted a David vs. Goliath battle but I don't know anyone on the RSL roster, or in their front office, or wearing their colors that thought that the task was too large for the boys from Salt Lake City. In the end it was the "team is the star" mentality that shone bright into the cloudy night in Seattle last Sunday.
The second thing I am thankful for is the vision of the RSL leadership, it was a huge risk for owner Dave Checketts to pick a player from his roster to become head coach. In fact it really was a task that was too large for Jason to handle and over the first 18 months it looked several times like that weight would crush him, but that isn't Jason, I honestly don't think he knows how to quit. I think he used the mentality of if unsure what to do, then work harder to get though the rough spots, and I think that has crept into the attitudes of the entire team. Pushing fitness levels to where the guys could play 120 minutes to beat the Fire and then come back and do it again against LA, while it impacted our guys you could see the difference in fitness levels and heart on Sunday and that was when RSL had won the match.
It may have taken the PK's to settle matters on the scoreboard but the reality is that when RSL scored their equalizing goal that the match was over and RSL had won. It simply was a matter of how they would close out the match. It is that type of mentality that came with the hiring of Jason as the head coach, and when pressure from all sides was trying to convince Garth Lagerwey and Bill Manning that it might be best to find a more experienced coach to lead the team, they stood strong in their faith in Jason.
Jason is a fighter, he didn't become the first MLS player to break 100 goals off of just talent, it was hard work and determination, it was a never say die approach to the beautiful game. Jason is the same way as a coach and the things that fans don't see are what will make him a huge success in years to come. It is the way Jason will bring his staff up to watch Everton practice before a friendly or the All Star match, they do that with every team that comes to town looking for ways they as a staff can improve on how they train. It is the hours and hours of watching film with his staff, players, and on his own to learn more about not only their opponents but about our team as well. While the players all headed home to be with their family and relax a bit with the knowledge that they accomplished so much this year, I can almost guarantee that Jason is studying film, reading up on coaching techniques, and trying to find out where the next piece to the RSL puzzle comes from.
That is why I am thankful that Jason is our coach, and that our team is one of the few that truly plays and acts like a team, no that isn't right, our team that plays and acts like the family it really is.
OFF MY SOAPBOX
The team without stars have earned their Star