Real Salt Lake 2007
2007 Club by Club
As is the case for every team, a large dose of optimism and expectation welcomed Real Salt Lake as the 2007 campaign approached, with the club bringing back a veteran nucleus and adding a few high-profile additions to a side that saw its late-season playoff charge the year prior fall one win short.
And the reasons for such optimism were valid, as the squad was returning a healthy and rejuvenated Eddie Pope, defending MLS Golden Boot winner Jeff Cunningham, MLS all-time leading scorer Jason Kreis, veteran flanker Chris Klein and playmaker Andy Williams while also adding a veteran goalkeeper in Nick Rimando and the electrifying Freddy Adu.
As Real Salt Lake prepared to open its season at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time, it appeared the new plan under head coach John Ellinger would come together quicker than expected with the squad holding a late lead against FC Dallas. But a breakdown in stoppage time would result in the game's equalizer for the Hoops - and a draw that felt like a loss for the home side. That the breakdown was only beginning, as a scoreless draw at home the next weekend against Columbus would be followed by a 4-0 road loss at Chivas USA.
After suffering a bitter 2-0 defeat at home to arch rival Colorado on April 30th, the changing of the guard would be swift and surprising, as three days later General Manager Steve Pastorino resigned, Ellinger was re-assigned to a Technical Director role, and Kreis hung up his boots so that he could take over the head coaching reins.
Kreis' sideline tenure started in entertaining fashion just two days later, as late goals by Cunningham and Chris Brown helped RSL garner a point out of a 3-3 home draw against the New York Red Bulls. A month-long, four-game road trip would coincide with the first of many major personnel moves, an exchange of strikers on May 22nd that sent Cunningham to Toronto FC and brought Alecko Eskandarian to Salt Lake City.
June would see a bittersweet announcement from Pope, as the defender announced prior to the team's June 14th contest against FC Dallas that the 2007 campaign would be the last in his legendary MLS career. A heartbreaking 1-0 loss in that contest and a 3-2 defeat against Los Angeles would follow, with a daunting home clash against a top-of-the-table D.C. United side on tap next. But before that match another trade was on the horizon on June 21st, when RSL acquired a pair of up-and-comers from the LA Galaxy, Robbie Findley and Nathan Sturgis coming to Utah in exchange for Klein. The move paid dividends just two days later as Findley tallied twice in his Real Salt Lake debut, the goals lifting RSL to a stunning 2-1 upset that gave the squad its first three-point result and stopped United's seven-game unbeaten streak in the process.
July was full of ups and downs for Real Salt Lake, as the club dropped its four League matches during the month but showed well against a pair of international opponents in its XanGo Cup 2007 double-bill over the Pioneer Day weekend. The 2-0 win over Everton FC and 1-1 draw against Boca Juniors also allowed the chance for Kreis to work in two of his latest acquisitions from the Rapids, defender Chris Wingert and midfielder Kyle Beckerman, the latter picked up in a trade that sent Mehdi Ballouchy to Colorado.
Real Salt Lake would see one more player depart late in the month, as Adu transferred to Portuguese power Benfica, leaving RSL after just 11 appearances with the club. The in-season roster makeover appeared to be taking shape as August hit, as Real Salt Lake won three out of five contests, beginning with a surprising 1-0 victory on Aug. 4th over a Houston Dynamo side that had gone undefeated in 11 straight contests. Even more reinforcements arrived in mid-August, when Kreis’ scouting in Argentina produced the trio of Matias Mantilla, Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales, the latter two of which would help form the core of the club for years to come.
A 3-1 home triumph over Kansas City on Aug. 29th and the squad's first road win of the campaign at the Galaxy three days later began a 4-4-3 finish to RSL's year, with the high note coming on the last day of the season on Oct. 20 at Colorado. Real Salt Lake's 1-0 win over the Rapids on Sept. 22nd would even up the Rocky Mountain Cup series at 1-1-1, and late into their season finale at Dick's Sporting Goods Park it looked like the sides would share the spoils out of a scoreless draw. But it was again Findley coming to the rescue, as his 87th minute tally gave the visitors a lead that Rimando would preserve with a highlight-reel save in stoppage time, giving RSL a 1-0 triumph that sent Pope into retirement on a well-deserved winning note.
The result not only eliminated RSL's arch rival from postseason competition, but gave the Utah side its first Rocky Mountain Cup series victory, a well-earned reward for a team that endured a roller coaster ride of a 2007 season.