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Kragthorpe: Real Salt Lake already back in business

Published March 5, 2014 4:31 pm

Major League Soccer • Only 3 months have passed since MLS Cup, but players say they're excited to get going
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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

Apparently, Real Salt Lake is launching another Major League Soccer season Saturday. This development would suggest that these guys actually stopped playing, at some point.

Hardly seems that way, does it? One day, RSL's Sebastian Velasquez is sitting in a locker room in Kansas City, wishing he could replay the penalty kick that would have given his team an MSL Cup title. And then he's standing in the hallway of Rio Tinto Stadium, discussing what he's learned from that moment and anticipating his next big opportunity.

"You can't hold that grudge against yourself," Velasquez concluded.

Technically, three months will have elapsed by the time RSL takes the field at Los Angeles, with a full training camp and a bunch of preseason games filling the bulk of the so-called offseason. The MLS season already is easily the longest in North American professional sports, and various factors conspired to stretch RSL's 2013 schedule into December.

When he visited his native Colombia this winter, "My days were going by [like] seconds," Velasquez said. "So I was having a good time there. The next thing you know, we're back in preseason."

RSL's Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Luis Gil returned even sooner, reporting to a U.S. Men's National Team camp in early January. Everybody then got together in Arizona, starting another pursuit of a berth in the playoffs — well, eventually. The team's regular season ends Oct. 22.

"You look at the other major sports, and those guys get a lot more time off than we do," said veteran defender Nat Borchers, "but at the same time, this is what we enjoy doing. I miss it so much when I'm in my offseason, so I'm happy to be back. … If you wake up in the morning and you're not excited to be a professional soccer player, then something's wrong with you."

RSL's players believe they have something to prove in the absence of coach Jason Kreis, who moved to the New York expansion franchise and left quite a legacy. As general manager Garth Lagerwey said, "Jason's name's on the building."

In an unusual move for a soccer team, the organization retired Kreis' No. 9, recognizing his achievements as an original RSL player and predicting that he would be worth remembering as a coach. Now that he's gone, the players seem to be rallying around Jeff Cassar, Kreis' former goalkeeping coach.

Another motivating factor is that RSL lost its last game of 2013. It might be tougher for these guys to get revved up this soon if everybody had spent the last three months telling them how great they were.

Actually, Lagerwey sensed "a little bit of a hangover" when training camp started. Now, he said, "I think we're handling it OK."

So are the fans, who have responded by pushing season-ticket sales to a record 10,500 in anticipation of the March 22 home opener.

This will be another intriguing season for RSL. The new coach, the loss of key players for World Cup preparation and the return of other players from injuries will converge to make Real worth watching. Of course, everybody would like to know 2014's ending, in advance.

Velasquez remembers 2013's conclusion. Last weekend, he finally watched the videotape of his easily saved penalty kick. And then in practice, he beat backup goalkeeper Lalo Fernandez four straight times — with the same move.

Reliving that moment "broke my heart," Velasquez said, "because I was so close."

Only three months later, he's back at work, with another long season about to begin.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt —

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