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Monson: Real Salt Lake has a familiar story to tell

Published March 22, 2014 5:59 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • Some things don't change. Some things shouldn't change. Some things will change when necessity properly shoves it into motion.

Only one change was needed on Saturday for Real Salt Lake during its home opener at a fully loaded Rio Tinto Stadium, where it faced the L.A. Galaxy: one more goal. The teams ground to a far-from-perfect 1-1 draw, which fit the overriding theme here - because the two clubs against each other now have an all-time regular-season record of 12-12-7. Same as it ever was.

"These were two teams out there that didn't want to lose," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. "We were a little off. … We need to get better offensively."

But even that is normal for RSL, especially in the early going, when the synchronization of the group takes weeks to form. "The first few games are always like this," defender Nat Borchers said. "It takes time to get that flow back."

Here's the thing, though: Real is still Real.

And that's a major positive, for a couple of reasons.

Jason Kreis is gone now, taking in his lessons from Manchester City on how to build a winner in New York. He already built one in Utah and the bennies continue to stack up, even in his absence.

"The philosophy is the same," said Garth Lagerwey, the general manager who partnered with Kreis in applying his share of the brick and mortar. "It is important to maintain our identity as RSL. The 4-4-2 with the diamond in the midfield, the aggressive possession soccer, we want to keep things on the field the same, maybe with a few tweaks. Jeff knows, he's worked in the system here for seven years now."

Cassar, the coach who replaced Kreis, the coach who Real hopes will keep momentum from past successes moving toward even greater achievement, is optimistic. His personality wanders far afield from Kreis' legendary persnickety, fastidious intensity. He's easier to be around, much more laidback. But his preferred brand of soccer, apparently, is a close replica.

"We want to find different ways to score," he said. "We want to find more ways to score."

Against the Galaxy, RSL had some early chances, and it capitalized on one, when Joao Plata hit a sweet cross to Alvaro Saborio, who measured and fired from the right side. After that, Real couldn't find the net. But it also kept L.A. from scoring, other than a stellar Robbie Keane goal in the 34th minute.

"In the second half, we just kind of ran out of gas," Borchers said. But he added he's high on his team's familiar outlook.

The names are pretty much the same. Nick Rimando in goal. Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales at midfield. Ned Grabavoy darting around, being his pesky self. Borchers anchoring matters in back, along with Chris Schuler. And Saborio working up front.

"We brought back all of our core players," Lagerwey said. "Some of them are hurt. It takes a while to get back after a seven-week offseason. But the same guys are here."

RSL threw a couple of new pieces into its rotation: Jordan Allen, a 19-year-old who grew out of the club's academy, who did not play Saturday because of injury but who will contribute regularly through the ridiculously long MLS season, and Luke Mulholland, who has already made an impact in early games. "He was the best player in the minor leagues last year," Lagerwey said. "And we signed him."

Another recognizable holdover: The veterans on the team, the same guys who have dressed out in the same RSL gear for seasons now, who seem to have claret and cobalt tattooed onto their skin and into their souls, are as motivated to go beyond what they did in 2013 as they ever were before what happened happened. Since Real dropped that heartbreaker at Kansas City in December's MLS Cup final, there's only one way to do that.

Win and win and win and maybe take home-field advantage straight through the playoffs.

"We are hungry," Lagerwey said. "The thing that came out of our exit interviews just 24 to 48 hours after the Cup final was that our core guys all viewed last season as a disappointment. A lot of players didn't think they had enough to show for it. I was impressed by that."

Saturday was a minor step forward.

In its first three games, two of which were on the road - against stiff competition: the same Galaxy and San Jose - RSL has earned five points. Cassar said he was pleased: "I liked the fight of our guys. The soccer will get better."

There are 18 more Saturdays in the regular season for Real, with two Sundays and nine weekday games thrown in. Time enough to stay the same, to improve, and to blow the doors off disappointment, too.

Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone.

Twitter: @GordonMonson.