Kragthorpe: Goals should keep fans coming back
Only the genuine Real Salt Lake soccer lovers returned to Rice-Eccles Stadium for the second MLS game in the state's history Saturday night.
The home team delivered just enough offense to make sure those 16,254 fans will have some company next time.
Real Salt Lake was disappointed after allowing a late goal in a 2-2 tie with San Jose, but the league's lowest-scoring team at least showed signs of life on a chilly night.
"The first half was great," coach John Ellinger said.
Real forward Jason Kreis' two goals in Saturday's opening 34 minutes matched the team's total for the first 360 minutes of the season. That's six hours of soccer or, more to the point, four games.
That makes winning difficult, even if RSL salvaged a victory and a tie from such lowly offensive production. And the lack of scoring hardly helps the marketing of the sport to the uninitiated in this expansion city.
"I'm a baseball purist," said RSL general manager Steve Pastorino, willingly offering some cross-sport comparison. "I love a 1-0 pitchers' duel, but I think the majority of people would like to see more runs on the board."
Same story in soccer, where the nationally televised MLS game of the week Saturday produced a scoreless tie.
"People would take the goals every time," Pastorino said. "It makes it more exciting, bottom line. Not too many people would disagree - except D.J. over there."
That would be RSL goalie D.J. Countess, who was emerging from the locker room after being subjected to a frightening 15 shots on goal. His 13 saves almost matched his total for the first four games.
San Jose's goals came roughly 70 minutes apart, and Countess was occasionally brilliant in between, with help from a goalpost and the crossbar.
So even if the home team had virtually nothing going offensively in the second half, "2-2" actually sends just as good of a message to the masses as "1-0." That was the score of the home opener two weeks ago, when more than 25,000 stopped by for the sake of history.
RSL's Loyalists - official and otherwise - will keep coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium. To attract the average sports fan in the Salt Lake Valley, though, a little offense is required. The soccer purists can find happiness in a scoreless tie, but the same is not true of the mildly curious ticket-buyer.
All of which made the Earthquakes ideal opponents, although Countess had a differing viewpoint.
Through four games, San Jose had scored nine goals and allowed the same number - a scoring frenzy, compared with the average RSL match. The Earthquakes are known for storming the net, which can leave them vulnerable to counterattacking.
That's exactly what happened on Real's go-ahead goal in the first half. Just when the Earthquakes seemed to be on the soccer equivalent of a power play, applying all kinds of pressure on Countess, Real broke out in the other direction.
Clint Mathis hit Kreis on a two-on-one situation and Kreis finished the play in the 34th minute, sending the home team ahead and leading to his back flip-punctuated celebration. Kreis, who claims three of the team's four goals, earlier came through on the franchise's first penalty kick.
That's just what RSL needed: a little something, you know, for the effort.
After last week's 3-0 loss at FC Dallas, Mathis had suggested, "We need to look ourselves and say, 'What are we doing out there?' "
Saturday's performance at least partly addressed that issue.
From his station at the other end of the field, Countess applauded the "attacking soccer" his teammates played in the first half.
That style produced "a glimpse of what Real Salt Lake is all about," Countess said.
Enough, anyway, to deserve another look.