Final thoughts about Real Salt Lake’s loss in the MLS Cup final and a quick look ahead to the bowl games for Utah State and BYU:
• The story that would have written itself surfaced midway through the second half Saturday. RSL’s Javier Morales tried to give his team a 2-0 lead that almost certainly would have held up against Sporting Kansas City. But his shot hit the goalpost and spun away, instead of caroming into the net as Morales was convinced would happen.
It would have been an indelible moment for Morales, who was injured in the first half of the 2009 MLS Cup victory over Los Angeles. He would have been a big part of RSL’s championship, after feeling left out four years ago. As it was, SKC earned a 1-1 tie then won 7-6 on penalty kicks.
• The playing conditions in Kansas City, Kan., definitely were not ideal with the field partially frozen and fans having to endure 20-degree temperatures. And if the game had been played at Rio Tinto Stadium, snow would have been a factor.
Even so, there’s a lot of merit in Major League Soccer’s awarding the championship game to the finalist with the better regular-season record. The season is so long that every bit of incentive is worthwhile. With a neutral site, RSL would have had more than 1,500 fans in attendance, but the home-field atmosphere heightened the intensity and would have made RSL’s potential victory even more meaningful.
• Coincidentally enough, Sporting Kansas City’s tying goal looked a lot like the goal that ultimately gave SKC a better record than RSL. It stemmed from a corner kick, just as happened in SKC’s 2-1 victory in Sandy in July, when the game-time temperature was 97 degrees.
• All season, I’ve had a dilemma about how much the injury-related absence of players should factor into my evaluation of college football teams. Each program has 85 scholarships, cushioning the loss of even some of the best players.
But would Utah’s season have been different, with receiver Kenneth Scott and tight end Jake Murphy consistently available? Would BYU’s offense have performed better against Wisconsin with JD Falslev and other pass-catchers on the field?
As for Utah State, having lost five offensive starters, including quarterback Chuckie Keeton, to season-ending injuries obviously limited the Aggies in a 24-17 loss to Fresno State in the Mountain West championship game. The same likely is true of the Poinsettia Bowl against Northern Illinois. Imagine Keeton dueling with NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch. That would have been great stuff.
Even with its outstanding defense, the Aggies lack the offensive playmakers necessary to stay with Northern Illinois. USU’s offensive line will have to play much better than it did at Fresno State.
• In the Fight Hunger Bowl, the absence of former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian takes away more than just a natural story angle, now that the ex-BYU quarterback has moved to USC. Sarkisian was the Huskies’ play-caller, so this game will present multiple challenges for Washington interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo.
Of course, the Huskies’ main approach is to hand the ball to running back Bishop Sankey. This will be a good matchup of BYU’s defense vs. Washington’s offense — much like Utah State’s defense vs. those other Huskies in the Poinsettia Bowl.