Getting due respect these days from all around, with the brief exception of their own coach after Wednesday night’s tepid effort in a home win over Montreal, Real Salt Lake is being viewed and reviewed as one of the best soccer teams on this continent.
It most definitely is seen as one the top teams in Major League Soccer, maybe the top team, and a legitimate threat to win the MLS Cup at the end of this season.
That’s nobody’s idea of a cute, little, hasty pick.
I say, answering the infamous Denny Green quote, “You want to crown their ass? Then crown ’em.”
OK, RSL will win the whole thing. It’s a crowded consensus, earned over the long haul, but it also considers what’s happening with this team right now.
Even when Real won it all back in 2009, some skeptics brushed the achievement aside as a quirky bit of good fortune, coming as it did on the tail end of a mediocre regular season.
Those doubts are in the rearview mirror now. RSL’s performances over the past few campaigns, including last year’s noble showing in CONCACAF play, have bridged their laughingstock early period to this time of reverence and recognition.
And responsibility ... to win, to live up to the respect and expectation currently surrounding them.
It’s a burden they seem happy to carry.
“In this locker room, we believe we’re a championship-caliber team,” said defender Tony Beltran after RSL’s latest impressive result. “Anything short of a championship isn’t good enough for this team.”
Lofty expectations are coming from both without and within the club, then, despite the occasional off-performances and more-than-occasional injuries that continue to plague it.
After starting this season 4-1, sitting atop the league’s rugged Western Conference, Real faced second-place Colorado at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, when and where their record climbed to 5-1.
RSL dominated the Rapids, winning 2-0, causing tough-to-please coach Jason Kreis to say: “We have to be pleased with where we’re at right now.”
Over the past six games with their Rocky Mountain rivals, Real hadn’t lost, although four draws in that span evidenced the tight nature of the series.
A loss was never in the picture in Game 7.
Kreis had expected — and actually called for — a better push from his players in this outing after Wednesday’s sloppy anomaly against Montreal, and he got it.
Although there are newcomers in this bunch — players such as Luis Gil, Jonny Steele and Sebastian Velasquez — who have bolstered the ranks, RSL still has its longtime core of players like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Alvaro Saborio, Nat Borchers, Fabian Espindola, Will Johnson, Javier Morales, Jamison Olave and others, on whom the clock is edging forward.
Already gone are former pillars, such as Andy Williams and Robbie Russell.
So, there is a sense of urgency around here, an idea that Real has to take advantage of a window that was difficult to open and that, even as the respect has come, won’t stay that way indefinitely.
That’s why guys like Beckerman, the team’s captain, go berserk when the team plays at a level beneath itself. It has to win, he figures, now.
Like Beltran said, a title is on their minds and at their feet.
Winning the Cup a couple of years ago was a nice surprise; making it to the CONCACAF final, before falling to Monterrey, was memorable; getting to the Western Conference final and losing to L.A. last season was a strong piece of work.
But to really leave a lasting mark, to sign off on a great period of soccer here, with so many of those familiar names, Real is expecting more from themselves. They’re expecting the same thing everyone else is — another Cup. And they confidently believe they’re good enough to get it.
“You don’t find a group of guys like this very often,” Borchers said. “We’re a great team. If you want to win, then you want to play on a team like this.”
Mark it down. These guys are going to win it all.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.