Shattered RSL hopes to recover quickly from Champions League loss
Sandy • It was easily the most devastating loss in team history, shattering hopes and dreams and wasting a massive and prolonged investment of energy, resources and focus.
And now, Real Salt Lake must find a way to move ahead.
While most teams have the offseason to get over the most crushing of defeats, RSL must pick up the pieces from its 1-0 loss to Monterrey of Mexico in the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League and press on with its regular season in Major League Soccer.
"Very, very difficult task," coach Jason Kreis said. "We'll see."
The effort begins almost immediately, with RSL traveling for its first game against the expansion Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field in Oregon on Saturday night. It's still unblemished in league play, don't forget, with four wins in four games and an 18-game regular-season unbeaten streak.
That's just one shy of the league record.
But even Kreis acknowledged that there are "a lot of questions to be answered" about how the team moves forward, after not only losing at home for the first time in nearly two years but having to watch another team hoist such a coveted trophy on its home field.
"We'll see what kind of group we are now," Kreis said. "It's a really easy task to talk about how good everybody is and how happy we are and all those sorts of things, when things are going our way. So now, to have this major, major disappointment, we'll see how we respond."
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman is all but certain to return to the lineup against the Timbers, having missed the Champions League final serving a yellow-card suspension. He might be surrounded by reserves, though, if RSL decides to give its regulars a break after the big game the way it did following a Champions League semifinal game in Costa Rica several weeks ago.
That hardly came out poorly, with a mostly reserve lineup dominating a 2-0 victory at New England.
The Timbers are not anybody's powerhouse, either, having gone 2-1-3 while allowing a league-worst 13 goals. Many of them have come in quick bunches, too, leading coach John Spencer to wonder whether they were acquiring a reputation as a "soft" team.
"If you score one, you score two or score three," Spencer told MLSSoccer.com. "That's what I would be saying against Portland if I was coaching against this team."
The Timbers do expect to pair new designated player Diego Chara in the midfield with Jack Jewsbury for the first time, after Chara arrived last week from Deportes Tolima in Colombia a move Spencer hopes makes the team more dynamic and versatile.
Meanwhile, RSL is simply hoping to quickly recover from the Champions League hangover.
Beckerman said the whole "amazing" experience helped the team learn and grow a lot it still has a 27-game unbeaten streak at home in regular-season league games, which it can extend against former assistant Robin Fraser and Chivas USA on May 7 and "we're just going to get better."
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando agreed.
"These kinds of games can either break a team or make a team stronger," Rimando said, "and I think our team is strong enough to know that this isn't going to break us up. We're going to stay strong and keep on preaching about how we're a good team and deep team, and how the team is the star.
"Right now this is an account of when there's a tough loss, to rebound and forget about it and go on with our season," he added.
RSL at Portland