Kragthorpe: RSL's disastrous week ends in another defeat
All of his teammates summoned enough energy to trudge toward the showers, but Real Salt Lake veteran Nat Borchers remained seated in front of his locker, half-dressed. Borchers willingly answered a few questions, blaming himself for one of the goals in RSL's latest loss, then ducked his head in defeat.
There could be no better illustration of what Borchers described as "a week we'd rather forget" unless it was coach Jason Kreis standing in the interview room and declaring himself "discouraged and mad at the world" like no other time in his life, or midfielder Will Johnson's saying evenly, "We're just leaking goals, coming from mistakes all over the field."
Saturday night's 2-1 loss to San Jose was frustrating enough, by itself. Mix in Wednesday's meltdown against Los Angeles in a 3-2 defeat, and this becomes RSL's worst week ever at Rio Tinto Stadium. Considering the standards that now apply, you could label this the most disastrous two-game sequence in RSL's eight-year history.
What are we supposed to think of this team now?
Everything that Real established in compiling Major League Soccer's best record this season collapsed in 180 minutes. After all of the buildup to these two games, RSL delivered performances resembling those of the bad, old days at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
If anything, this week was worse. Before Wednesday, RSL never had lost after leading by two goals, in the 233-game franchise history. Then came Saturday's showdown, with the winner guaranteed first place in the Western Conference.
The three words on the whiteboard in the locker room said it all: "What's our response?" Turns out, Saturday's answer was as unsatisfying as the questions left by Wednesday's effort.
Even a draw would have preserved Real's lead in the standings, but the Earthquakes answered Javier Morales' tying goal with Chris Wondolowski's header off a set piece in the 84th minute. That's just the kind of late strike San Jose is known for, and the circumstances could not have been more devastating to RSL.
"Honest to God," Kreis said, "we didn't lose the game. We gave the game away twice."
It's true that none of these unsavory sound bites would have been uttered and the latest defensive lapses could have been overlooked if RSL had finished any of several other scoring chances. A flurry of missed opportunities in the first half, mostly involving the hard-working Fabian Espindola, were followed by all varieties of near-misses in the second half of a scoreless game.
San Jose defender Jason Hernandez turned away shots from Johnson and Johnny Steele with his goalkeeper out of position, while Morales, Steele and Alvaro Saborio sent balls sailing barely over the crossbar.
That's how RSL (10-5-2) remains stuck at 32 points in the MLS standings to 33 for San Jose (10-3-3). No wonder Kreis was left to observe, "Soccer can be a really cruel game." His allotment of credit to San Jose's defensive work, preventing those would-be goals? "None," Kreis said, bitterly.
So the real damage of the week is what RSL did to itself. "We're giving teams goals," Johnson said. "The best teams in the world win games 1-0, with good team defense. Right now, we're not close to good team defense."
Where is this team, exactly? All anybody knows for sure is it's a long way from its position of this time last week. RSL no longer is even the West's best team, after a two-game effort that can be summarized only as pointless on the field, and in the standings.
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