Real Salt Lake 2007 Review: The Riddle of RSL

(Clever sub-titles seem in order here…perhaps even too-clever ones; I mean, is RSL really a riddle?)

Real Salt Lake
Record (W-L-T): 6-15-9, 31 GF; 45 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports

Real Salt Lake’s (RSL) past two seasons have followed the Riddle of the Sphinx made famous by the story of Oedipus: “What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?” The relationship is, naturally, more conceptual than actual: RSL starts slow – albeit fatally so, unlike the baby of the riddle – then rallies strongly enough in mid-season for the word “playoffs” to get bandied about, but that’s only the tease that comes before they feebly squander their post-season hopes to a series of draws and ill-timed losses.

Oh well. At least they won the Rocky Mountain Cup this year.

Then again, 2007 seemed a crueler year, one in which a playoff race all at once exciting and pathetic combined with some modestly hopeful omens to suggest RSL could stick around the “man” phase long enough to make the post-season. The season even started with a glimmer of hope with a fresh-start Freddy Adu coming to town. Sadly, that arrangement that went South fast enough to lose head coach John Ellinger his job by early May. If it ever feels like only yesterday since Jason Kreis took over, consider that.

But the illusion of rounding the corner to a sunlit street teased RSL all season long. Kreis’ his first game in charge featured a fighting 3-3 draw against a seemingly potent Red Bull New York; then three straight losses to weak teams followed from there. In mid-to-late June, Nate Sturgis’ and Robbie Findley’s arrived from the LA Galaxy bringing with them the team’s first win of 2007 and, in Findley, the hope that they had finally landed a goal-scorer. The Kyle Beckerman/Mehdi Ballouchy trade came in July and, after that, the arrival of the “Three Argies” – Fabian Espindola, Matias Mantilla, and Javier Morales; these last two coincided with RSL’s best spell of 2007, a 4-4-3 run through August and September. That may not sound like much, but this is MLS, where a sub-.500 can still spell playoffs.

Each little dawn faded quickly, though none so painfully as that long, lingering slide away from a post-season berth. Of the four “life-line” wins compiled over August and September, only two were consecutive and the fateful losses and draws picked up all around them killed what little hope RSL fans could briefly cherish. In fact, the fourth win in that “glory run” came too late to do anything but help bring home the Rocky Mountain Cup and ruin Colorado’s season. Maybe those “little dawns” were just anomalies in the season of a genuinely bad team? Continue reading