KRIS LINDSAY - Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Real Salt Lake sat miserable in an all too familiar setting Tuesday night.
There were players sitting in the middle of the field with their head in their hands. Eyes were red. Frustration had passed, it was now time for mourning. Maybe, the most memorable, was head coach Jason Kreis, who stared for what seemed like an eternity in a daze, watching as the grounds crew built the stage where another team would lift a trophy in his fortress, for a third straight time.
It had seemed, up to this point, that the stars had yet again aligned in Real Salt Lake's favor. Last time, it was a 2-2 draw away to Monterrey, with the whole country backing up Real Salt Lake, almost willing them to make history and advance to the Club World Cup. This time, it was a 1/32 chance that gave them every game at home throughout the US Open Cup. They would face arguably the worst team in Major League Soccer, DC United. It was a gimme, a lay down, a take-it-and-run gift from the almighty soccer gods.
It wasn't to be. For the third straight time, someone else was opening the champagne in the visiting locker room.
"This is a cruel game," said head coach Jason Kreis. "I've never been on the other side of this, where I've been the one who has been outplayed, outpossessed, out-everythinged, and raised the trophy."
The mantra of Real Salt Lake, "The Team Is The Star", has been what Kreis has attributed his success to over his six year tenure with the Claret and Cobalt. The club has steered away from buying the big name players, to scouting out young, overlooked talent, in order to establish the environment that no one stands out.
It has paid dividends for the club, not just financially, but with effort on the field as well. Six players have tallied five goals or more this season, with Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio netting 10 goals in a season littered with injuries and sparse playing time.
Until now, no one has questioned the system because of how successful they have been with the limited resources that they have had.
Did Tuesday night lack a Marco Di Vaio? A Robbie Keane? An Eddie Johnson? Does RSL lack a player that can take over a game, that is dangerous late, that teams need to game plan around? Is the team the star, or does someone need to step up as a leader, a dominant force that exudes confidence and rallies his teammates?
There are two ways to view the success that RSL has had with a variety of goalscorers. First, you can see it as excellent distribution, that several players are capable of contributing, and in the end, the team is the star. Conversely, you could see it as a lack of a dominant player, requiring several players to step up, but not really knowing where the next goal is going to come from.
What player should be touching the ball late on with the game on the line? Does Real Salt Lake have a go-to guy? Does it even matter?
Looking at the teams that are in contention with Real Salt Lake for the Supporters Shield, and MLS Cup, there are game changers on every team.
It could be argued that Alvaro Saborio is that game changer. If the Costa Rican hadn't been plagued with injuries this season, he would have been on pace to score a whopping 21 goals this season, two ahead of the league leader, Marco Di Vaio. But is Sabo the game changer that RSL can turn to in dire circumstances for a goal?
RSL does have a third Designated Player slot available.
Some things stay the same, and work. 2009 was a long time ago for RSL fans, and the trophy case is sitting pretty barren. Two times since then have they been the favorites, two times since then have they had a trophy on their field, and two times have they watched their opponents celebrate a victory.
Some things need to change. For the team to be the star, someone has to be willing to start the spark that allows the team to shine.