Kragthorpe: RSL writes its own story in biggest win
Seattle » They piled on top of Robbie Russell in front of the goal after the winning penalty kick, they danced on the champions' podium and they celebrated in the locker room, once they finally, unwillingly left the field of their triumph.
All praise to Real Salt Lake, the happiest, winningest losing team in Utah sports history.
The club that posted a sub-.500 record in the regular season, barely made the Major League Soccer playoffs and trailed the celebrated Los Angeles Galaxy at halftime of Sunday's MLS Cup won the title.
RSL outlasted the Galaxy in penalty kicks (5-4) after a 1-1 tie through more than two hours of soccer in the wonderfully neutral, energized atmosphere of Qwest Field.
This team played through the injury loss of midfielder Javier Morales and the illness of midfielder Will Johnson, and it dominated everything that took place after halftime. RSL ultimately needed three saves from goalkeeper Nick Rimando among seven penalty kicks and a clutch goal from volunteer kicker Chris Wingert to extend the contest to the seventh kicker, making a hero of Russell.
This was written on the whiteboard in the winners' locker room: "Be confident, be bold, be aggressive."
This is what Wingert told Jason Kreis in advance of the penalty kicks: "Let me shoot, let me shoot."
Andy Williams could have won the game with the fifth kick, then former RSL player Chris Klein gave the Galaxy the advantage. That meant everything would have ended with a miss from Wingert, and he knew it.
"Go up and bury it," he told himself, and he did so. Then Rimando made another save, Russell delivered and RSL's unlikely championship was a reality.
As another whiteboard advisory suggested, "It is our time."
Apparently so, and deservedly so.
Seriously, though, what league's script was going to have David Beckham and Landon Donovan lose the championship game?
Real's players were determined to write their own story of the MLS Cup. Trailing 1-0 at halftime, they came out of the locker room inspired. RSL pressured goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts relentlessly in the first 20 minutes of the second half, finally converting when Robbie Findley drove home a ball that had pinballed off two Galaxy defenders after Yura Movsisyan's wicked shot was blocked.
Suddenly, the game took on an entirely different look and feel. No longer was this just a 90-minute exercise to create one Galaxy highlight, a sequence that featured passes from both Beckham and Donovan, leading to Mike Magee's goal in the 41st minute.
In RSL's victory, there would be so many lasting images of the opportunity to play in front of 46,011 fans on the biggest pro soccer stage this country could offer.
A collision with Beckham left Morales with a sprained knee and battered emotions, as he sat on the bench with his head in his hands.
The picture illustrated everything about what this game, this championship opportunity, meant to RSL.
And there were more such scenes. Imagine being Johnson, his body weakened by food poisoning, gamely playing through the first half before having to step aside.
Or Findley, desperately chasing a loose ball in front of the Galaxy goal early in the second half, ending up sprawled on the field after a three-way crash with Ricketts and defender Omar Gonzalez, as the ball bounced harmlessly away.
Or Russell, hustling to get his foot on a bouncing ball, only to have Ricketts deflect it.
But then came Findley's goal, and it became apparent that RSL was not going anywhere. Instead, these guys would stick around for good, producing their own desired and deserved ending.