Well for Real Salt Lake extending their unbeaten streak at home simply wasn't enough on Saturday night, the 1-1 draw against FC Dallas saw the season end for RSL in front of one of the best crowds ever at "El Castillo". There were a number of things that caught my eye during the match, but perhaps none more than the approach of FC Dallas who clearly were looking to play the defend and counter style as opposed to their normal open and attacking style. It worked in large part to the efforts of Kevin Hartman who simply was incredible in goal. It also worked as RSL pressed early and the counter attack got behind the RSL defense and allowed Dallas to get a critical goal that would in the end be the difference maker.
I could second guess a number of things that RSL did during the match, like why doesn't Fabi pass more quickly, why did Saborio play while it was clear he wasn't 100%, and other things but that serves no real purpose. RSL to a man gave all that they had and in the end it was simply not enough, not due to a lack of effort but simply because that is what sometimes happens in soccer.
Post match comments after the jumps and some thoughts on what an incredible year we just had:
REAL SALT LAKE HEAD COACH JASON KREIS
On the match:
"I'm real pleased with the effort from the guys. I'm pleased at how much they put in to it and how much they continued to put in to it until the final whistle. It made things really, really difficult on [FC Dallas] in the second half. I felt like their goalkeeper was standing on his head and was the difference in the match, probably the difference in the series."
On Robbie Findley's goal:
"I'm pleased that Robbie Findley gets to end his season in a positive fashion; that he scores the goal that really pushes things along and adds a bit of a burst. But I know that he's just as disappointed as everyone else in the locker room."
On the series:
"In the last couple matches, we were a victim of our own expectations. I really feel that in the Colorado match and these two Dallas matches ... we were playing with this angst of, ‘What if we lose? What if we lose this series and don't repeat as Champions?' We expected more of ourselves, and that's different than it ever has been here. In years past we've played with no fear-and I would say that's the way [FC Dallas] is playing right now; there are no expectations on them. We played a little tentatively and a little bit scared because we were nervous to lose, and I just don't think you can ever be at your best when you're a little bit nervous and a little bit scared."
On the season overall:
"You can't take away all the stuff that we did this season. Yes, we don't have a chance to repeat as MLS Cup Champions, but my goodness, we've done so many incredible things this year and no one can ever take that away from us. The things that stand out to me are to play Cruz Azul home and away and beat them in that series-it was hugely important.
"All of the contributions by how many players this year? To watch the highlight DVD the other night and see almost 14 players on our team scored goals this year and contributed in such meaningful fashion. It was amazing just to see the way the guys bought into what we're all about here, even the new guys. I'm so thankful for all the things those guys have done every single day in training and every single match this year."
REAL SALT LAKE MIDFIELDER WILL JOHNSON
Overall thoughts on the match:
"It is a hard one to take regardless, a real tough loss ... It kind of reminds me of the New York loss [in the 2008 Western Conference Championship]. We had a lot of chances. [Kevin Hartman] was top notch and made a bunch of big time saves. Giving up that early goal ended up costing us."
Thoughts on RSL's approach:
"We came out very anxious, very excited, and we just went for it. We left ourselves a little bit exposed and we got punished for it."
Thoughts on the difference between last year's playoff run and this year:
"We can't catch anybody by surprise. It was a different situation for us having to go on the road for the [first leg] instead of starting at home and being out in front. But the expectations were there and we came up short."
REAL SALT LAKE FORWARD ROBBIE FINDLEY
On the match:
"Tonight I felt like we gave it our all and that's all you can ask. We knew that it would come down to balls in the box and being able to finish and we just weren't able to get that last goal to tie things up."
REAL SALT LAKE MIDFIELDER ANDY WILLIAMS
Thoughts on the match:
"It's unfortunate that [FC Dallas] scored first. It changed the way we played. The first half we weren't really connecting our passes and we were a couple of steps slower than FC Dallas in the first half. In the second half we started to settle things down and I think that 80% of the second half was played in their half and we just couldn't put it away."
On the added pressure heading into tonight's match:
"From the first leg we were already down [a goal] and you want to push and get that goal [in the second leg] first and we were at home. So, the pressure was on us and that's it. [Kevin] Hartman had a great game tonight and I guess he saved the best for us."
I look back at the last 12 months and what the players, coaches, and staff of Real Salt Lake have delivered to the fans and I am simply in awe of the width and depth of what has happened to the franchise that was looked at as the lovable losers by most in MLS and the larger US soccer community. The dramatic way we made the playoffs last year by winning a huge match at home while others failed to secure their spots, the defeat of the defending champs both at home and on the road, the drama of PK's in Chicago all lead up to Seattle. The road trip made by nearly a thousand RSL fans to support their team at MLS Cup, the prematch takeover of the city, one of the most exciting matches in recent MLS Cup memory, the never say die battle to push the match to PK's and of course the performance of everyone in PK's and the hoisting of the Cup.
All of that lead to high expectations and despite a rough April, RSL was simply incredible from May until November, losing just 3 matches, fighting for the Supporter Shield until the final match of the season, setting many team and league records, being undefeated at home all season long. Yes in the end it would have been nice if one more goal had gone in and pushed us to extra time, it was clear that RSL was the better team on Saturday but the FC Dallas defense held and it simply didn't happen this time.
There will be no time to weep or worry, as there is much that will keep RSL fans focused over the next few weeks as we cheer for anyone but Colorado to win MLS Cup, we find out how the expansion draft will impact RSL, what will happen with Robbie Findley, Alvaro Saborio, and other players during the brief off season. Christmas will come as will New Years, the MLS draft will take place and RSL will start their preseason before January is over. The Champions League is calling and as the first MLS team to win their group, the goal is to beat Columbus in Feb/Mar and move in our pursuit of another trophy for our collection. While 2010 positioned RSL as one of the top teams in MLS, I expect that 2011 will raise the bar again and establish Real Salt Lake as one of the top team in all of CONCACAF.
Not every soccer match ends the way you expect or hope, it is the very nature of soccer that often the better team doesn't win on the day. Soccer has never just been about a match, or even about a season, it is about the long run, it is about the history that is made each time your team takes the pitch. It is about being "Salt Lake til I die"
I will not hang my head, I will not make excuses, I will no mourn for things that didn't happen, I will instead continue to do what I have always done, I will support my team, I will be a fan, I will be part of Real Salt Lake.
OFF MY SOAPBOX