Real Salt Lake 2010
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Real Salt Lake’s MLS Cup defense lasted nearly 10 months from February to November, a sometimes arduous stretch that saw the six-year old organization’s first foray into meaningful international competition, a visit to the White House to commemorate its League title and an ultimately shocking and disappointing “game for the ages” in Mexico City that had the U.S. soccer blogosphere hyperventilating with anticipation. On a November evening in the RSL locker room, eyes filled with tears found it impossible to believe that after losing just four games out of 38 in all competitions over the previous six months that an incredibly dynamic, record-setting season – one when many “firsts” were accomplished – was now over, and that another team – eventually, its chief rival - would be crowned MLS Cup champion.
While Real Salt Lake did not repeat, something that has occurred just twice in Major League Soccer’s 15 seasons, Jason Kreis’ team accomplished several franchise and American soccer milestones that contributed to an “unfinished business” fuel for 2011. Depth was a massive key to the team’s success in 2010, as RSL saw 16 different players score in three competitions, and a total of 23 players earning starts. Therefore, it can truly be called a TEAM effort as Real Salt Lake established new all-time MLS standards in several categories, including: fewest goals allowed (20), overall goal differential (+25), total home points (37), fewest home losses (0) and fewest home goals allowed (7) during the 2010 season.
While RSL was the highest-scoring team in MLS in 2010 with 45 goals in 30 games for an average of 1.50 goals/game, defense took precedence in Jason Kreis’ “Team is the Star” system. The total commitment of all 11 players on the field to the defensive side of the ball allowed 2010 Real Salt Lake to amass two of the top four shutout streaks in MLS history. GK Nick Rimando played all 568 minutes of the third-longest streak for a team and goalkeeper during August and September, which surpassed - by one minute - the run accumulated from late May to mid-July, during which Rimando contributed 511 minutes of spotless soccer.
RSL concluded the 2010 season with just 20 goals allowed in 30 games – smashing the previous record of 23 goals conceded in 30 games, a mark set by the 2007 Houston Dynamo. The average of just 0.67 goals allowed per game was by far the lowest GAA in team history (2009, 1.17 goals/game). The total of 15 shutouts (14 Rimando, 1 Reynish) far surpassed the all-time team season mark of 10 clean sheets, set during the MLS Cup-winning 2009 campaign.
Rimando surpassed by three clean sheets his personal-best season total of 11 shutouts, set in 2005 with D.C. United, when he appeared between the pipes for all 2700 minutes of his team’s 30 regular-season games. The team’s commitment to defense resulted in not one, but both regular centerbacks – Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave, the combination affectionately known as “Bor-Lave” – named to the 2010 MLS Best XI, while All-Star selection Rimando was a finalist - and, ultimately, an unceremonious snub - for the League’s annual Goalkeeper of the Year honor.
Also receiving year-end accolades around MLS was team MVP Javier Morales, finally receiving the richly-deserved league-wide recognition that had eluded him in 2008 and 2009 as the sublime playmaker joined Borchers and Olave on the Best XI selection. Also an All-Star, Morales was a two-time MLS Player of the Week, each following two-goal performances against San Jose and Columbus, earned Goal of the Week honors against Houston, and tallied the game-winning goal in the 80th minute of a mid-June game – albeit controversially – at home just prior to the FIFA World Cup 2010 South Africa over previously-undefeated Los Angeles.
Morales was the straw that stirred the potent drink that was the RSL attack, the team setting franchise records in wins (15), goals (45), scoring output (1.50/game), points (56), shutouts (15), road points (19) and road goal differential (+1). The prime beneficiary of Morales’ mastery? The man who would win MLS Newcomer of the Year honors, Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio.
“Sabo” joined RSL late in the preseason on loan from Swiss club FC Sion after a dismal period at Bristol City in England. The former Saprissa star made an immediate impact for Jason Kreis’ team, coming off the bench in the team’s home opener against Seattle and tallying a stoppage-time equalizer to ensure that the sell-out crowd – many of whom had come to celebrate the pre-game raising of the MLS Cup 2009 championship banner and the players’ ring ceremony – went home happy. That goal was the first of 18 in 32 MLS and CCL games for Saborio, who tallied five games with two or more goals and demonstrated a penchant for clutch scores, with two stoppage-time equalizers and two game-winning goals in the 85th minute or beyond.
Never was Real Salt Lake’s “never stop fighting” attitude on display brighter than it was in the regular-season finale at Colorado in a game that would determine the winner of the 2010 Rocky Mountain Cup. RSL, seemingly exhausted by the 22,000 miles spent criss-crossing North America as part of the CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage, was down 0-2 to the rival Rapids in a game that had MLS Cup Playoff seeding for both sides in addition to Supporters Shield implications for the visitors.
In the 90th minute, Colorado ‘keeper Matt Pickens took a little extra time clearing a back pass, allowing the “always hunting” Saborio to get his outstretched foot on the ball, which bounced off the ground behind Pickens and struck the Colorado crossbar. With a backtracking Pickens losing his balance searching to recover from the gaffe, Saborio, in true poacher fashion, slammed home the ball to cut the Colorado lead to just one goal in perhaps the most bizarre scoring play of the MLS season. Five minutes later, deep into stoppage time, Sabo converted a penalty kick for the equalizer, which ensured that RSL – despite its worst performance in months – would earn a point to tie Los Angeles in the Supporters Shield race entering the final day of the season and retain the valued Rocky Mountain Cup for the fourth consecutive season.
Saborio also shone brightest in key moments during RSL’s CONCACAF run, scoring six goals in five group games and leading the Claret-and-Cobalt to become the first-ever MLS team (and one of just three non-Mexican teams) to win a CONCACAF group, posting a 4-1-1 mark (with 13 points, one ahead of Mexican power Cruz Azul) and advancing to the Championship Stage. Real Salt Lake, which also saw Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Paulo Jr., Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Jamison Olave and Collen Warner score CCL goals, was the 2nd highest-scoring team in the 2010/11 tournament, with 17 goals across six games (2.83 goals/game).
The team’s CCL campaign will be remembered by MLS fans across the globe due to the team’s rain-soaked tilt with Mexican power Cruz Azul in late-August. Hailed as an instant classic and a game for the ages, RSL saw an early goal taken off the board and fell down a goal soon afterward in Mexico City before earning a 2-1 halftime lead and a 3-1 advantage in the 74th minute, courtesy of a Saborio brace and his set-up for Fabian Espindola. In devastating fashion on a pitch with massive amounts of standing water, Cruz Azul scored three goals in the final quarter-hour (75’, 88’, 89’) amid the monsoon-like conditions to take the lead into stoppage time.
In yet another “never say die” moment for RSL, Canadian international Will Johnson slotted home a ball at 92+ to knot the game at 4-4, but Mexican international Christian Jimenez scored just seconds after the ensuing kickoff to deny RSL – and MLS – the chance at a first-ever American club victory on Mexican soil. From May 1 to Oct. 19, RSL amassed 64 points in 30 games played – the equivalent of an MLS season – in combined MLS and CCL play, a points haul equal to the 3rd-best run EVER by an MLS team (Los Angeles in 1997/98 and 2009/10 accrued 70 and 66 points over a 30-game period).
In 2010, RSL extended its Rio Tinto Stadium dominance (11-0-4 MLS, 3-0-0 CCL) to become just the second MLS team to post an undefeated home campaign (San Jose 2005). Entering the 2011 season, the home unbeaten streak was at 25 MLS games and counting, and 33 when including postseason, CCL and international exhibitions. In MLS play, RSL outscored league opponents 53-12 in Sandy, with 15 different players hitting the back of the net (Saborio and USA World Cup representative Robbie Findley lead with nine goals each).