Sandy • As he stood on the grass at Rio Tinto Stadium, a spot where his team has enjoyed plenty of success, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis took a moment Monday to reflect on the disappointments.
There was the 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls here in the 2008 conference semifinals.
Then, of course, there was the heartbreaking loss to Monterrey to end RSL’s Champions League run.
So on the eve of the U.S. Open Cup final, Kreis’ history lesson was salient.
“Collectively, the message for me is don’t ever take anything for granted,” he said. “We cannot walk into this game assuming we’re going to walk out with a trophy. Otherwise, we’ll get the exact same result we got the last two times, and that was watching someone else celebrate with a trophy on our field.”
For months now, even as RSL continues its playoff push and fights for the Supporters’ Shield, Kreis and his team have left little doubt how important Tuesday’s final against D.C. United is to them.
Despite all the success the team has enjoyed since Kreis took over as coach, the club’s trophy case has no company for the 2009 MLS Cup. A win Tuesday against a lowly D.C. United team would mean extra hardware to polish, and a ticket back to Champions League, a tournament Kreis relishes.
As the team trained Monday morning, Kreis said he could feel the importance of the match weighing on his players. “You can sense it in the mood,” he said, “that little bit of edge of nerves.”
But players said they have gleaned lessons even from prior failures, including the loss to Monterrey.
“It’s experience,” midfielder Javier Morales said. “I believe that game we were a little bit anxious to try to win. … There was a lot of pressure we couldn’t control in that moment. But that helps us now to try to calm down.”
RSL’s road to the Open Cup final hasn’t been without some bumps. The team needed extra time to beat minor leaguers Atlanta and Charleston.
Against D.C., RSL will once again be a heavy favorite. United sits dead last in the league standings.
One of the team’s six wins this season, however, came early on against RSL.
“We’re not going to play that game looking at their record and getting overconfident,” defender Nat Borchers said.
“I believe they are a good team, you know,” Morales added. “And tomorrow they have the last chance to do something this year, and they’re going to play really hard.”
Kreis said he’s not surprised by D.C.’s run through the Open Cup. With the regular season unsalvageable, D.C. has put its complete attention on the tournament.
“That’s clearly been the focus for the last two months. They’ve been kind of riding their way through some league games honestly, and just looking at this Oct. 1 date as a chance to save their season,” Kreis said.
With the emphasis RSL has placed on the game — despite still having a shot at a Supporters’ Shield and eventually the MLS Cup — coming up short again in a big game would feel like failure too.
“Some players only get a cup final once in their career,” Borchers said. “You have to relish this moment.”
Real Salt Lake vs. D.C. United
P U.S. Open Cup championship
At Rio Tinto Stadium
Kickoff • Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV • GolTV
About RSL • The team is playing in its first ever Open Cup final. … By virtue of a series of coin flips, RSL has not had to play on the road during the tournament. … Over 16,000 tickets had been sold for the Cup final as of Monday. ... Salt Lake beat minor league clubs in the Atlanta Silverbacks, the Charleston Battery and the Carolina RailHawks before downing the Portland Timbers in the semifinals. … Rookie Devon Sandoval leads the team in scoring during the tournament, with three goals.
About D.C. United • Major League Soccer’s last-place team has found its groove in the Open Cup. … Needed penalty kicks to beat the minor league Richmond Kickers, but went on to outscore a trio of MLS opponents 8-2 the rest of the way. … Dwayne De Rosario leads the team — and the tournament — with five goals in Open Cup play this year.