So as I was relaxing with friends yesterday, I got to thinking about all the great things this year that happened involving RSL and it was a little bit overwhelming. Go back a year to the contract extension of Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis (I know some of you still don't get him or appreciate what he has done for the team, but you will), a brave move by the RSL owner and management group. The reward for that action is that we have the youngest head coach to ever win the MLS Cup.
Then you have the draft, waiver draft, and off season pickups and while nobody can claim that they were 100 percent perfect, we did pick up Jean Alexandre, who appears to be a player who will soon make a big splash for RSL. We got Raphael Cox, who in limited minutes showed real signs of being a player who can make a difference and has got a great work ethic and attitude. We picked up Ned Grabavoy and all season long he stepped in whenever he was asked to and performed, no better examples than the Eastern Conference Final where he came in with just a minute or so left for an exhausted Robbie Russell and went on to hit the clinching PK, or his unexpected entry into the MLS Cup at halftime for a sick Will Johnson. While Luis Miguel Escalada didn't make the impact that many expected and eventually was let go, his signing proved RSL's willingness to look for "out of the box" options for filling out roster.
There is more after the jump...
The preseason saw RSL take part in the Carolina Cup Challenge for the first time, the tournament has been a launching pad for MLS success for the winning team. Real did just that, they won the tournament and started the collection of 2009 silverware that would continue all season long. RSL finished their preseason with a free match at Rio Tinto so everyone could come out and see both the team and the beautiful new stadium. The match featured a new USL side the Austin Aztex, and while a quick injury to Ian Joy in the match would ruin his season, the relationship with Austin would prove to be valuable as RSL sent several players down to Texas on loans to get some playing time and continue their development.
For Real Salt Lake their season would start in Seattle, and while the match didn't end the way many fans would have hoped, it was a great time for the 150 or so RSL fans that invaded Seattle that weekend (click here to see the pictures) and really was the launch pin for so many of the good things that would happen in 2009. I will give the fans up in Seattle their due, they showed up in numbers and while many were new soccer fans they did their best to support their team this year and that is always a good thing.
The next weekend would feature the RSL home opener and we would face the defending MLS Cup Champions the Columbus Crew, and not only did we face them but we dominated them and pulled out the 4-1 win. The match showcased Robbie Findley to the rest of the league and proved to be his 2009 coming out party, he would go on to score 12 regular season goals and have 4 assists, and then in the playoffs add 3 more goals and another assist in a spectacular season. The match also featured an innovated move by the RSL front office to try and bring out a larger crowd on a cold spring day, they offered a guarantee of no rain (it did rain) and free tickets to a summertime match if it did. While the crowd was still one of the smallest of the 2009 season at Rio Tinto, it was the first of many good moves by the front office.
Before April was over RSL would again make some history, they faced off against the New England Revolution on the 25th and before that match was over RSL would set a new team record for most goals scored in a match (6), their largest ever margin of victory (6 goals), most players to score in a match (6), and tie a MLS record for most goals scored in a half (6). The match also featured one of the greatest goals in RSL history as Clint Mathis hit a ball that has to be seen to be believed.
May would be the ugliest month of the season for RSL as they didn't win a single match (0-4-2) and would lose their only home match of the 2009 season as lowly KC beat them 2-0 on May 16th. For me it was the disappointing play in San Jose that was the low point of the season and while the final score was just 2-1, as one of the 50 or so RSL fans in attendance it was this match that I believe was one of the turning points in the RSL season as the team would only lose one match in the next two months of MLS action.
Those two months ended with Rio Tinto Stadium and Real Salt Lake playing host to the 2009 MLS All Star Match, and while I am still confused why one of the marquee matches of the MLS season is played midweek, it was an entertaining week of events as Everton came back to Salt Lake City and All Stars from around the league joined them. It was the first "MLS" credentialed event that I was granted full access to and it was an amazing week as several players impressed me with both their on and off the field actions. None more than Freddie Ljungberg, as a new player to MLS one would expect him to take it easy in an exhibition match, but nothing was further from reality as he played a full 90 minutes and played them at 100%. Granted it was his PK effort that was saved by USMNT and Everton keeper Tim Howard, but overall it was an impressive effort from Freddie, even with the match being the first loss for MLS since the change to the MLS vs. International team format.
Well that is a big bite of the season and the All Star Match seems like a perfect breaking point. I will post more this afternoon.
OFF MY SOAPBOX