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Hype or Hope? Hysteria or History? A Reality Check about Real Salt Lake

SANDY, UT - MARCH 26:  Players of the Real Salt Lake pose for a picture before a game against Los Angeles Galaxy before the start of an MLS soccer game March 26, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SANDY, UT - MARCH 26: Players of the Real Salt Lake pose for a picture before a game against Los Angeles Galaxy before the start of an MLS soccer game March 26, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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There I was watching the MLS SuperDraft online a day when many fans begin hoping about the future, and my team trades away their first round pick, and by the time it is all done a couple months later no player selected by RSL in any of the drafts is still with the team.  For many teams that would be an issue, but for RSL with their depth built over the last couple years, that didn't seem to upset many people, it sure didn't me.  Then there were the additions to the team, via a trade RSL gained Arturo Alvarez and then with just a 5% chance of winning RSL picked up Cody Arnoux, then the found themselves in a position to pick up former Red Bull prospect Conor Chinn, and finally they added their first homegrown player in Donny Toja.

The funny part is that while I believe that all those players will impact RSL either this year or in the future, none of my hopes for the 2011 season were tied to them.  Instead it was the core of the RSL roster that inspired hope, it was those who came so close last year to winning the Supporters' Shield, and those who arrived in 2011 with hunger in their eyes wanting more after being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs last year.  They also knew that there was another goal out there for them, their season would start a month earlier than ever before, with their quarterfinal matchup in CONCACAF's Champion League against the Columbus Crew.  You have heard from every level of Real Salt Lake that the organization made the CCL a top priority for the team.  

the story continues:

Most people expected RSL to get past the rebuilding Crew, and they did as expected with a dominating performance at home.  Then came the first leg of the semifinals against Saprissa, and again RSL had a stellar performance at home and ending with a 2-0 win.  In the middle of the series came a couple MLS matches, a 1-0 road win at San Jose to kick off the season and then the match that cause a lot of people to start paying closer attention to RSL, it wasn't just the 4-1 score that got people's attention.  It was the way which RSL took charge of the match in the first minute against the LA Galaxy, and then the way they simply dominated the match and deflated their entire roster.  A last minute PK kept RSL from being able to earn a draw in San Juan, Costa Rica, but the 2-1 loss wasn't enough to keep RSL from advancing to the Champions League final, a first for any MLS team.

Then there was last weekend, RSL's staff a couple weeks ago decided that in the match at New England they would rest a number of their key players (I had no idea it would be all but one of the guys who started in Costa Rica).  When you saw the fact that 6 of the starters for RSL on Saturday had a total combined 22 MLS starts (Kyle Reynish=3, Paulo Jr.=1, Jean Alexandre=5, Chris Schuler=2, Collen Warner=4, and Rauwshan McKenzie=7) on the pitch you thought maybe they will grind out a draw.  Then the match started and not only did they perform, they outperformed the Revolution and got a dominating 2-0 win in a match where the Rev's lost not only the match but their class as they got frustrated and decided if you can't beat them, try to beat them up.  It didn't work.

All of these things have played a role in the current attention that RSL is getting, and yes they are making history for themselves and MLS in a couple ways.  First the Champions League, yes LA and DC won the previous version, but to try to compare the Champions Cup those two teams won to the Champions League as it is today is simply a joke.  So yes RSL making it to the finals is history for the league and the team, and win or lose they will hold the place of being the first MLS team to make it that far. 

There is also "the streaks" and while some consider it taboo to talk about it, the reality is that RSL is in the midst of two incredible streaks.  First is the 36 match home unbeaten streak, simply amazing is all you can say about that.  Second, is the 17 match unbeaten streak in league play.  The record is 19, held by the 2010 edition of FC Dallas, and the 04/50 Columbus Crew.  Now streak will always end, and either could end tomorrow night, but I doubt they will.

So on one front RSL is the hope of MLS and making history in Champions League of that there is little doubt, but just 3 matches into their MLS season it is hype to claim they are a lock for any of the other trophies or titles out there, and perhaps a bit of hysteria over their early season form across both MLS and Champions League action.  As a fan, and one who spends a lot of time watch MLS and RSL, I put it out there a couple months ago that I believed that RSL had what it took to make some major history by being the first MLS team to ever win #TheQuad.  Now that would mean by most expectations winning  the Champions League, The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, The Supporters' Shield, and MLS Cup.  When I posted about it, I included a couple other options as well, SuperLiga (which thankfully is dead) and if we are going to dream why not dream really big, can you say FIFA World Club Cup?  I can.

Are these reasonable expectations, no of course not, in a salary cap league there are far too many things that actually would prevent such runs.  Are these good goals to set, for fans, I say yes, why would you not want to dream the dream that your team would do the "impossible"?  For players and staff, they know better than anyone the realities of their capabilities and the level of competition they face, but if you didn't believe you could achieve such lofty goals, why would play? 

So here is your reality check, RSL is a very good team and they play a very good style of soccer and they could very well make a lot of history this year.  They have a very fit team, they have great depth, they have a coach who believes in them (not some of them, but all of them), they have fans who believe that they can and will accomplish the impossible, and they have themselves who know the only limits on them are the ones they set on themselves.