So over the last few days I have offered up a look back (two parts) at the RSL season and I left off with the huge night at Rio Tinto just over two months ago (Oct. 24th) when the win over Colorado and other results landed RSL in the 2009 MLS playoffs.
That night we knew we were in, we knew we were in the East but we didn't know if it would be Chicago or Columbus or when the first match would be. The next day all the pieces fell into place and for many the joy of making the playoffs was replaced by the fact that we would be facing the defending MLS Cup Champions, the 2009 Supporter Shield winners, the Columbus Crew. I had no fear that we could play with them at Rio Tinto, but we have bombed horribly at Crew Stadium the last few years, and had never won there and only scored 2 goals in 6 matches there. It would mean we would likely need a big victory on Halloween Night.
Well despite some great ideas by RSL to get a crowd out, moving up the start time it was a small crowd but that didn't stop everyone from having a good time. No that honor went to the Crew for playing one of the most defensive matches I had seen in years, they made very few shots (7), and their clogging of the midfield kept RSL to just 8 shots. In the end it was some more late match heroics from Yura Movsisyan who got off a great cross to Robbie Findley who put it into the back of the net in the 88th minute to give RSL the 1-0 win, but that margin of victory had many people doubting that we could get past the first round.
After the break you get the rest of the details, including the two early goals by Columbus in leg 2.
So while the RSL crowd was just under 12,000 for leg one, the Thursday night leg in Columbus could barely get 10,000 fans to show up to support the defending Champs. Those who did attend got a great performance from GBS (Guillermo Barros Schelotto) who put two balls into the back of the net within the first 35 minutes of the match, both off horrible RSL defensive efforts and visions of the 3-0 loss to FC Dallas crept into mind.
For the longest time, I had thought RSL was spending too much time passing and not enough shooting, despite us taking over 420 shots during the regular season (most in MLS) and when I saw the passes close to the Crew box, I thought again? but was surprised to see it fall to Javi who put it past the keeper and within 2 minutes RSL was back even on the total and down just a goal in the match.
As stoppage time was moving along in the first half for some reason Hejduk pulled down Fabi and the official pointed to the spot and RSL had a chance to even the match and take the lead back in the series and Robbie Findley stepped up and left no doubt as he beat Hesmer to even the score at 2-2. The second half saw desperation enter the match as Columbus knew they had to get a goal to force overtime, but that desperation ended with RSL getting some good chances and when Andy Williams took a free kick from some distance, it looked a lot like GBS's from the first half as the defense was frozen and the ball bounced into the back of the Crew net and RSL took a 3-2 lead in the match and 4-2 in the series and the final 15 minutes it was a lot of Columbus trying to fire off shots but they lacked quality and Rimando wasn't going to be beat again. In the end the defending champs were left with their heads down as the upstart RSL pulled off the 8 vs. 1 upset and did it with style.
For RSL it meant waiting to find out if they would head to Boston or Chicago to play in their second Conference Final in two years. For Chicago it couldn't be more perfect as Blanco scored the goal to put them through and the heads at MLS started to salivate as the possibility of Blanco vs. Beckham in the MLS Cup had them thinking of all the things that could be. There was just one problem with their vision of the DP Cup, that problem was RSL and their refusal to go away.
Unlike the match at Columbus, this one was a sell out and over 21,000 fans were there and despite the stats being fairly even, it was clear that RSL was the more aggressive team and controlled the match but both keepers made huge saves, 14 in total. When it went to extra time, I thought it would favor RSL as the fitness level demanded by Jason is higher than most of the other teams in MLS, when neither side could find the back of the net in the extra 30 minutes and it would come down to PK's.
If you had been told that in PK's that both Javi and Fabi would miss their shots, there is no way you would think that RSL could have won, but Nick Rimando stepped up and stopped 3 of the last 4 fire attempts on goal. It would come down to Ned Grabavoy who came on in the 113th minute and when given his shot as the 7th RSL player to take a shot he would finish and RSL would be headed to Seattle to the MLS Cup Championship match.
Well back in March I don't know many RSL fans that thought our season would start and end in Seattle, but is exactly what was going to happen. As the team and fans frantically went about trying to get tickets, make travel plans, reserve hotel rooms, it would end up being the trip of a lifetime for the thousands of RSL fans that journeyed north just a few days before thanksgiving.
For me it was huge, I had just decided to move my blog to this new site and now I was going to be in Seattle watching my team play for the Cup. It was a great trip as we headed out late on Thursday night and got into Seattle Friday afternoon, just in time to start the craziness. From trips to Pike's Brew Pub, FX McRory's, the supporter summit, the Saturday practice sessions, the MLS Blogger Roundtable, a night of making the rounds to the Seattle pubs and bars. To all the action of Sunday, for a fan it was a great time in a town that is lucky enough to have their stadium in a very developed downtown area, with two huge sports stadiums next to each other it allows bars and shops to set up and cater to the fans, then end result is the best atmosphere for soccer in the US.
Ahh, when you get past the pomp and circumstance of the event in the end it is a soccer match and while few gave RSL any chance of making it a close match, let alone winning, history has a funny way of making the experts look silly. It was clear from the start of the match that LA was the more confident team for the first 15-20 minutes, their passes were sharper, and tactically they were better, but about 20 minutes in something changed as Beckham (you know the savior of MLS) committed a hard foul against Javier Morales. In a matter of minutes it was clear that Javi couldn't continue and RSL was forced to make a change, I believe it served as a rallying cry for RSL (go back to that Chivas match- in which RSL's players had to fight for each other to survive) and they started playing a bit more confident and a bit more aggressive for the final 25 minutes of the first half.
Despite being sick, Will Johnson played gutsy ball and kept both Landon and Beck's from being able to move as freely as they were used to but with just 4 minutes left in the half the quality of LA showed in a series of great passes started by Beckham to Donovan, who delivered it to Mike Magree who put it past Rimando and LA took a 1-0 lead.
RSL would use their second sub at halftime as Will Johnson's heart simply couldn't get him past the food poisoning and RSL would bring in Ned Grabavoy to finish out the match. RSL came out and played tough and attacking football in the second half, and within 20 minutes it would be Robbie Findley who would find the back of the net and tie the match up at 1-1 and the next 56 minutes would see both teams get some chances but the defenses and midfields kept the changes rare as LA ended up with 3 shots on goal and RSL ended up with 4.
The extra time saw again that RSL was the more fit team, but even a fit team suffers and it was clear after 90 minutes that Andy Williams, the heart and soul of RSL, was gassed and had nothing left. His inability to finish the perfect pass from Clint Mathis at the end of the second extra time session, was caused by not having anything left in his tank, it continued in PK's.
RSL fans had to feel good as Nick Rimando, a keeper who had won a MLS Cup in PK's, a keeper who had made huge saves the week before against Chicago, was facing off against Josh Saunders who had under 700 minutes of action in his MLS career.
Beckham was up first, goal. Then Mathis, goal. Berhalter, goal, Findley, goal. Kirovski, saved by Rimando, Beckerman saved by Saunders. Landon missed high, Ned goal. Magee got a goal, and Andy Williams saved (to be honest it was a tired effort). Klein goal, Wingert goal. Buddle saved, and Robbie Russell goal to win the Cup.
The emotion shown by players, staff, and even the owners of RSL after the match was simply a thing to be seen, and for nobody did it have as much of an impact as Andy Williams. From being a RSL original, to the off field struggles, to becoming a major part of the playoff run, it was clear that the events of this match will stick with Andy forever.
OK that is it, a look back in 3 parts at the season that was, and what a season it was.
I have a couple links I want you all to check out, first is a blog that I agree with what he says but think he might be a bit misguided, and another blog that I am not sure what I think about yet, but I am working on responses to both of them over the next couple days. I am also going to do another look at the CBA and the issues both sides are dealing with.
OFF MY SOAPBOX