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Happy RSL Boxing Day (part2)

So I missed a couple things in part one that I need to mention.  First up was the friendly against Club America, a match that RSL played to win and showed well against one of the powerhouses of Mexican soccer, it was a great match to watch but I was a bit disappointed with all the RSL fans who whine about the fans from the other team out numbering them.  They can only buy the tickets that the RSL fans don't buy, so that excuse is lame and stupid and should never be used again.

Second up was the naming of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales to the 2009 MLS All Star match by "the Don", in a clear move to add some local flavor to the match and for Javi as a make up to the clear snub last year.  Also added to the MLS roster was Will Johnson who was an injury replacement but was probably the most deserving of the 3 RSL players.

August was a big month for RSL and while they ended the month with a 3-2-1 record, they did accomplish a couple things that would be difference makers in the end.  Three matches stuck out to me from the midsummer stretch, first was the 1-0 win over Seattle at Rio Tinto, to get some factor of revenge for the opening match loss.  Every match against Chivas is big, no matter where either side is in the standings, and when the two teams faced each other at Rio Tinto on the 26th it was RSL that looked like the playoff bound team.   RSL dominated the match and scored 4 goals that evening while maintaining another clean sheet for Nick Rimando, it was the biggest RSL victory over Chivas since the two sides joined the league in 2005.

The month would be capped off just 3 days later as RSL travelled to Kansas City and would face the only team to beat them at Rio Tinto, heading into the match RSL had just a single road win.  To make matters worse they would be playing without Javier, without Nick, and without Yura.  RSL was first to strike as Pablo Campos stepped up and netted an early goal in the 18th minute, and from that minute on it was gut check time for RSL.  Ned Grabavoy started the match and played well until he was sent off with a straight red card in the 42nd minute (review shows it wasn't even a yellow) and in the second half RSL played the most impressive defensive half of soccer I saw all year, using rookies like Raphael Cox (who started the match) and Jean Alexandre who came on at halftime for Andy Williams.  Chris Seitz improved his overall value to RSL and eventually to Philly, as he stopped 7 shots on goal from a total of 17 shots by KC to keep the clean sheet as RSL won the match.

RSL would get a couple weeks off as Labor Day weekend saw the USMNT come to Salt Lake to face El Salvador in a World Cup qualifying match.  It was nice to see both Kyle Beckerman, hot off his Gold Cup performance for the US, and Robbie Findley both get called into camp to train with the US team, while Chris Seitz unofficially was there to help the teams train and served as a 3rd keeper during many practices.  It was a great weekend as about a hundred members of the American Outlaws came to town to watch the match and help me celebrate my birthday. On matchday it was a bit crazy but the atmosphere was great as the US got the 2-1 win after giving up an early goal.

September would be a horrible month for RSL, as they would only play 3 matches (great scheduling by MLS) and get only one point from the 3.  It was a 1-1 home draw against the Fire after a lucky goal by Olave in a match were RSL simply got outplayed.  

The next weekend in Houston RSL would get stuck in a bad situation, after allowing two very early goals off set pieces, RSL would go down to 10 men as a soft red card was shown to Olave in the 32nd minute after they had just cut the lead in half off a 27th minute goal by Beckerman. RSL actually would play better a man down and evened the score in the second half as Yura Movsisyan scored his 7th of the year to tie the score at 2-2, but in the end the man advantage was too much as RSL simply ran out of gas for the final 10 minutes and Houston would take advantage to get a 81st minute goal to go up 3-2 and win by that same score.

The next weekend RSL had their most disappointing outing of the second half of the season as they simply played flat and got handled by a surging FC Dallas team, RSL gave up 2 goals in the first 10 minutes and played the next 80 with their heads down and looked as if they had simply packed it in for 2009. Eventually Cunny would score another goal to give FCD the 3-0 win.

It would be 3 weeks before RSL had another MLS match and it would be against the New York Red Bulls, who suffered one of their worst seasons in 2009, but were a team that Real had never beaten.  It was at this point of the season that something special happened and it took two parts for it to really mesh RSL into the team they would have to be in order to make it back to Seattle.  First up was the attitude check, the staff simply gave the team a choice to pack it in or to start over.  I don't think that many players understood that starting over would mean several weeks of the toughest practices they had seen all year long.  

The second was the request Jason made of Bill and Garth to find them a match, a tough match before their next MLS match, and boy did they answer as Chivas came to town.  No not the team from LA the real Chivas, the most famous club in Mexico and a team that hates to lose, even more they hate to play MLS teams.  Again RSL fans disappointed as many stayed home and in doing so they missed another great match.  It was clear within minutes of the start that something had changed for RSL since the match against Dallas, they were passing sharply, attacking every ball they could reach (and some they couldn't), they were playing a smothering defense while attacking as often as they could. It was RSL that would score first on a great combination of Yura to Espindola, that would give RSL the 1-0 lead and really cause Chivas to change their style of play.

It was one of the most physical matches I have seen in a long time, and the first half ended with dual red cards being handed out and that confrontation continued into the player tunnel as Sandy police were needed to separate the players.  The second half was less physical but still nasty and tough fought as Chivas were able to get a goal and the match ended at 1-1, but unlike other friendlies there would be no PK's as both coaches just wanted to ensure their players got off the pitch in one piece.  To me it was the effort and fight that RSL showed in that match that would be the difference maker for the rest of the season.

It left RSL with 3 matches to go in the MLS season, the playoffs seemed distant as RSL had just a 1 in 5 chance of making it and were facing a team they had never beaten.  History however wasn't going to stand in the way of RSL on the 14th of October as over 16,000 fans showed up for a midweek match and watched RSL simply show that they weren't done yet, but for fans the match had a very familiar feel to the Western Conference Final of 2008.  That match were RSL dominated the play but couldn't find a way to score, going into the last 10 minutes of the match RSL had done everything but score, they had taken 3 times more shots than New York, had 7 more shots on goal than New York, had outplayed them in every aspect of the match but had not a goal to show for it.

It was none other than Andy Williams, whose off the field struggles were so well documented, and who had come on in the 63rd minute who would find the back of the net to give RSL the 1-0 lead with just 10 minutes left in the match.  For the fans and team it was a collective sigh of relief, but for Fabian Espindola it was just the start as the goal seemed to give the hardworking forward a bit more pep in his step and that allowed him to get his 3rd goal of the year in the 90th minute to secure the 2-0 win for RSL.  The celebration of the win over New York was short lived as even after that win they were still on the outside looking in at the playoffs, and had less than a 50% chance of making it.

The next weekend saw RSL travel north of the border to face off against a TFC side that too was fighting for their playoff lives.  It looked like it would be RSL's day as in the first minute Espindola found himself alone with the keeper and fired a shot from the top of the box but a great save kept the score at 0-0. 20 minutes or so later it was Fabi supplying a great pass to Yura who fired a cracker of a shot but another impressive save kept RSL off the scoreboard.  On the other end of the pitch Nick Rimando was making some big saves as well to keep his team in the match.

It was in the second minute of the second half that saw RSL give up a goal, the sad part was that like so many other things in 2009 this one was clearly a missed call by the officials as Chad Barrett clearly used his arm to control the ball, from there it was left to Brennan to put it into the back of the net and despite playing better than TFC, it was RSL that left with a loss that all but eliminated them from the playoffs.

The final weekend of MLS action saw RSL at home against Colorado and with their playoff hopes out of their hands all RSL could do is try to win, and try to win the Rocky Mountain Cup.  Their fate was in the hands of other teams, but RSL was going to go down fighting and in the 15th minute Robbie Findley scored to give RSL the 1-0 lead.  Meanwhile at Giant Stadium, the Red Bulls were doing their part as they lead TFC 2-0 at the end of their first half, and even KC was doing their part as they went into halftime with a 1-0 lead over DC United.

RSL continued to do their part and Robbie added a second goal in the 33rd minute to give them a 2-0 lead as they headed into halftime.  By the time they came out it was clear that one of the teams they needed to lose for their slim playoff hopes to survive had done so as the Red Bulls found a way to beat Toronto 5-0 to end the TFC playoff hopes. While in KC, it was tied up 1-1 in the 80th minute, but DC United would take a 2-1 lead with just 8 minutes to go in their match.  For RSL it was all about handling their business as they kept up the pressure on Colorado, and a cheer went up from the fans as KC tied the match in stoppage time on a PK from a handball in the box and yet another team that could have kept RSL out of the playoffs had fallen out of the way.

In his final MLS regular season match Yura Movsisyan did what he had done before, scored a late goal against Colorado and eliminated them from the playoffs.  His 85th minute goal gave RSL a 3-0 lead and they secured their second piece of hardware of the 2009 season, but the Rocky Mountain Cup was the last thing on the minds of players, fans, or staff.  Now all eyes turned to Qwest field as Seattle was hosting the hottest team in MLS, FC Dallas (not kidding).  Dallas had taken a 1-0 lead into the locker room at the half, with a 14th minute goal by Atiba Harris, but Seattle who had struggled to score at home in the second half of the season found a way to even the match in the 61st minute, and with just 6 minutes left in the match Seattle struck again and took a 2-1 lead.  As the match ended with that 2-1 score, RSL had beaten the odds, just a 1 in 4 chance before the matches began and now just 5 hours later RSL was secure in making the playoffs for a second straight year.

Wow, it is now time for another break as I guess part 3 will have to wait until tomorrow.