Kragthorpe: RSL hopes win means lasting cure
During stoppage time in Saturday night's first half, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis yelled at an official and theatrically pointed at his watch, then wheeled and kicked an ice chest while striding briskly toward the locker room as play continued.
Holding up two fingers, Kreis was just wondering why the one extra minute was lasting so long. The same could be asked regarding his team's slump, which may or may not have ended with a 2-0 victory over Colorado at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"Honestly, we had a very good result two weeks ago," Kreis said. "And then we got our butts handed to us."
Yet even if the winning goal was a gimme and the maroon "Aurora" banner draped by Rapids supporters in a corner of the upper deck served as a reminder of matters that transcend soccer, RSL needed this win.
Kreis liked the way his players responded after a 5-0 loss at San Jose. RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy cited the team's steady aura for the recovery, having witnessed a pregame atmosphere that was "maybe the most relaxed I've seen our team in a long time."
Real then went out and earned the win with an outstanding defensive effort and two goals created by the hustle of forwards Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio.
In the process, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando moved to No. 2 on Major League Soccer's all-time list with his 132nd victory. His teammates' dominance was such that Rimando barely was noticeable, even in his resplendent yellow uniform.
Rimando made a nice play early in the second half and another one late in the game, but was not credited with any official saves.
Real's first goal was a 2-footer as described by distance, not technique. Saborio's tap-in came after Epindola chased a loose ball and tumbled over Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens, with the ball caroming to a wide-open Saborio in front of the net in the 32nd minute. Will Johnson added a goal, created by Saborio, in the 90th minute.
Those scores came after RSL was shut out at San Jose. That debacle, partly attributable to captain Kyle Beckerman's red card, followed a 3-0 win over Portland that seemingly cured Real's troubles. That's why Kreis said there's no assurance that Saturday's showing fixed all of the team's problems. Just to add to RSL's mysterious state, Kreis would not reveal why he sat at the far end of the bench Â saying only that the move was "well thought-out."
RSL had to play without Beckerman, but the Rapids have their own personnel issues during a five-game losing streak and now are winless in the last eight meetings with RSL.
So there's no way of determining if this really is the same Real team that once stood 10-3-2 with an MLS-leading point total, only to hit a 1-4-1 skid and fall well behind San Jose in the Western Conference. What's clear is that Saturday's win was pretty much mandatory if the regular season was going to retain much relevance for this team.
As for the Rocky Mountain Cup, some of its significance may be wearing off, now that RSL has assured itself of keeping the trophy for a sixth consecutive year and because Rio Tinto Stadium also houses the more valuable 2009 MLS Cup.
Even after Saturday's win, RSL (12-7-3) remains a long way from that level of performance. But the breakthrough was meaningful, considering the team's inconsistency. This game was not so much about winning a trophy, but more a case of not having to give it back.