In their CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday night, Real Salt Lake teetered on the edge of … of … what was it? Lunacy? Oblivion? Change? The end of an era? New hope? One more glorious run? A resurrection?
Yeah, pick one.
Pick three. Maybe those last three.
And do so largely by way of a great second-half sequence by a meandering Paulo Junior, who made a scintillating series of moves to crush a shot that ricocheted off Tauro FC’s goalkeeper and wound up on the foot of Alvaro Saborio, who scored, shoving RSL toward their winning margin.
A 2-0 margin, padded later by Kyle Beckerman, that they were desperate to have.
Real, so impressive in their last go-round in CCL competition and early favorites to win the MLS Cup this season, had lost four straight games overall. RSL had already dropped five games this year at Rio Tinto Stadium, a place once so impregnable, somebody around here aptly named it the “Fortress.”
Lately, it was a fortress where the bumbling F-Troop hung out.
None of RSL’s players could take offense at that last line because none of them knows a darn thing about 1960s TV comedies. But then, they are fully aware that they deserve a bit of derision for their recent play.
Well, they at last came alive against Tauro, a team in RSL’s group in CCL play from Panama. Had Real tied or lost on Tuesday night, they would have effectively fallen out of position to advance in the tournament. They already had lost last month in Costa Rica. They needed victory — preferably for them, big victory — in a championship where every goal counts.
As we all discovered in RSL’s last thrilling run in this competition, when they made it to the final, finishing just one game out of an invitation to play in Japan against some of the planet’s iconic teams, the CONCACAF tournament is kind of a big deal.
“It’s a huge deal for the credibility of our league, especially if we get a chance to play the Mexican teams,” said Real general manager Garth Lagerwey. “Only a fraction of soccer fans in the U.S. watch MLS. If we emphasize this tournament, we get international exposure that isn’t possible any other way.”
That credibility and notoriety extends beyond fans.
“It’s a real hook for Central and South American players to want to come play for us,” Lagerwey said, pointing to Saborio as an example.
On the other hand, had Real not taken a step forward by winning this game, Lagerwey painfully acknowledged what, short of a stirring late run in MLS games, likely would have occurred: “If we continued down this path, we’d see a lot of [personnel] changes.”
He added: “If we can’t get it done with this team, we’ll have to tweak some things.”
Which is to say, Lagerwey might blow the thing up.
RSL already has started tinkering, making moves that nudged the club slightly younger. But, mostly, Lagerwey and coach Jason Kreis have been waiting for the veterans to heal, come together, play up to their potential and regain whatever it was the team once had that spawned its success.
“Confidence,” said defender Nat Borchers, who watched the game from the upper reaches of Rio Tinto on account of a red card earned in the first CONCACAF game. “We need our swagger back.”
RSL appeared to have regained that, as well as energetic play, through most of Tuesday night’s game. They had multiple early opportunities to score, possessing the ball and pressuring the Panamanians on numerous occasions.
In the first half, Real fired off 11 shots to Tauro’s 2.
In the second, they played beautiful soccer, outside of Beckerman’s red card in the 72nd minute. They D’ed up and exploded for their two stellar scores, looking remarkably like themselves again and reminding everyone on hand — the place was packed — just how good they used to be.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.