2006 Club by Club
Led by forward Jeff Cunningham, last-minute heroics permeated Real Salt Lake’s existence in 2006. Despite its slow start out of the gates, going 0-5-1 prior to losing Eddie Pope and Douglas Sequeira to World Cup duty, RSL was the lone team with more than one second-half comeback (four wins), as Head Coach John Ellinger's squad led MLS with 15 of its 45 goals – exactly one-third – in the final 15 minutes of games, a testament to the team's cardiac personality.
Season highlights included the team's first-ever road win, a 3-0 victory against the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center, sparking a 3-0-1 run during the month of May that also saw Cunningham score in a team-record four consecutive games. Real later went on a 6-2-1 run in late July and the month of August, the most successful surge in team history. The run not only placed RSL firmly in the thick of the postseason chase, but produced several highlights, including: the squad's first-ever come-from-behind win on the road, a 2-1 thriller at Columbus featuring a 72nd-minute Chris Klein equalizer and a 90th-minute Carey Talley game-winner; a record-setting four goals scored in a resounding win at Colorado; a 3-1 win at New England highlighted by Cunningham's twisting, 50-yard dribbling exhibition through eight Revolution defenders; and a scintillating 3-3 draw at Kansas City which saw three lead changes and Jason Kreis' 108th – and ultimately final – career goal.
That stretch would be interrupted on Aug. 12, when soccer superpower Real Madrid visited the Wasatch Front for a star-studded friendly that was played in front of 45,511 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, setting an attendance record for a soccer event in the Beehive State. The sometimes chippy match, which included an Atiba Harris red card, saw the “Galacticos” take the lead through a Ruud van Nistelrooy PK just before halftime, and the Dutchman followed up with an assist on Robinho’s 64th minute tally that ended the scoring in the 2-0 Madrid win. Global icon David Beckham not only started the contest but, per usual, made headlines away from the field earlier in the day by joining various dignitaries at the ground-breaking ceremony for RSL’s eventual new home in Sandy.
Cunningham scored 16 goals in 2006 to lead MLS, capturing the Golden Boot, adding 11 assists and honored with an MLS Best XI selection. Real Salt Lake's emotional leader in 2006 was Carey Talley, the unequivocal "heart and soul" of RSL, a tenacious tackler and relentless motivator whose highlight-reel goal from 35 yards out in July against rival Chivas USA nearly won the MLS Goal of the Year honor. Goalkeeper Scott Garlick notched career win #100, only the third 'keeper in MLS history to attain that threshold, in a season in which he started 31 games, a team record, and his 10 wins, 9 ties and 2,745 minutes also setting the club standard.
In the second half of RSL's second season, the team dropped just four of its final 16 games, turning the corner from an expansion team struggling to find its way to one which finished just two points shy of a Western Conference playoff berth. As the third-highest scoring team in MLS in 2006, RSL entered 2007 with high hopes and a "playoffs-or-bust" attitude.