By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah – It’s like a broken record for Real Salt Lake at this point.
Once again the claret-and-cobalt dropped a result at home with a championship on the line. Once again they fell to their opponent 1-0 with a number of possible equalizers rebounding off the woodwork, and once again RSL had to sit and watch the visiting team celebrate a championship on their home field.
“It’s something that I can’t really put my finger on,” head coach Jason Kreis said. “How we can get so close and have so much momentum through the majority of the season and we get to a game like this and we can’t seem to put things together. We can’t seem to get over that last hurdle.”
RSL has been possibly the most consistent team throughout the past few MLS seasons and yet have no trophies to show for it. Kreis’ side recently set a record for being the first team in MLS history to hit the 50 point mark and qualify for the playoffs five years in a row and yet they have no hardware to show for it.
In 2008, Real Salt Lake watched the New York Red Bulls secure their trip to the MLS Cup in their newly-christened stadium. In 2011, in the CONCACAF Champions League final, RSL had one foot in the FIFA Club World Cup when they left Monterrey with a 2-2 result. It was not to be as Humberto Suazo scored the lone goal right before halftime in the return leg and Monterrey held on for the title.
The third time was not the charm on Tuesday, and Salt Lake fell again, repeating almost the same script from their previous two losses. This time it was Lewis Neal that would be their undoing. A former RSL trialist who had only played 232 minutes all season for D.C. United. It didn’t matter much to the opportunistic midfielder, who ran onto a loose ball and sent the game-winner into the back of the net in the 45th minute.
“It almost makes it hurt more a little bit I think,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. “I didn’t think we played bad. I didn’t think the energy level wasn’t there. I thought all of those things were there. I think that’s what makes it hurt even more. Because you’re just left searching for answers a little bit. You can’t find the words.”
It was a sobering scene in the locker room after the match. Kreis made it a point to go around to every single player there and give them a firm handshake and a pat on the back.
This is a team that probably deserved better, but RSL cannot dwell on missed opportunities or they’ll lose the few they have left. They have a quick turnaround ahead, hosting FC Dallas in league play on Saturday.
“I think this team’s got a choice right now,” defender Nat Borchers said. “We can let this thing bring us down and affect our future results, or we can put it behind us and move on. That’s the choice we have to make right now.”
With only three games left in the season, RSL will have to shake off the disappointment quickly if they want to have any kind of chance at the Supporters’ Shield and, much more realistically, a favorable seed in the playoffs.