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Eastern Conference Championship

RSL disappointed with opening result

Heading into their season opener against Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake had high expectations for a re-tooled lineup which featured eight new starters from the group that ended last year with the second worst record in the league.

Instead, Real picked up where they left off last season and were beaten 3-0 at The Home Depot Center on Sunday afternoon.

"I'm surprised at how we played," said midfielder Andy Williams, one of the few holdovers from the 2005 side that finished with an abysmal 5-22-5 record. "I thought we would play much better."

Besides Williams, the only returning players in the starting 11 were veteran defenders Eddie Pope and Chris Brown. Key offseason acquisitions who figure to turn around the league's least productive unit from a year ago include Chris Klein and goal scorer Jeff Cunningham. However, neither was able to generate any meaningful attacks against Chivas.

"The story of the game was how many times we turned the ball over in the midfield and create bad situations for ourselves," said Salt Lake coach John Ellinger. "You just can't keep making those kinds of mistakes, giveaways, and we seemed to do that a lot."

Chivas found the back of the net twice in a four-minute span midway through the first half and Real were unable to answer the rest of the way.

"It's disappointing because I know we're better than what we showed. We have too much experience on the field to give the ball away as many times as we did," added Ellinger.

The constant turnovers in the midfield forced RSL to defend early and often throughout the match, rendering offensive possessions scarce and limiting the visitors to only two shots on goal.

"I'm not worried about the offense," said Williams. "We just need to defend as a team first and foremost especially on the road. We need to hold the fort a little longer and not let them score in the first half."

Williams, who played in his new role as central midfielder, was unable to generate much offense throughout the night. However, his inability to spark the offense was owed to few touches on the ball.

"It's not fair to assess him on (today's game)," said Ellinger. "You have to play through your attacking midfielder and I don't think we did a very good job of finding him and letting him play tonight. There were a few moments when he was good but I know he felt like he was alone on an island. When we moved him up to the second forward he changed the game a little bit and he was holding the ball and got in behind people."

Salt Lake was outplayed by Chivas -- who also started seven new faces from a year ago -- from the opening whistle. And it didn't take long for the hosts to take a 1-0 lead when Ante Razov scored off a long ball from Claudio Suarez in the 21st minute. Just four minutes later, Juan Pablo Garcia made it 2-0 with a long range goal and Razov scored his second goal of the match in the 65th minute.

"We came out slower than Chivas today," said Williams. "They came out and made the first statement and we couldn't catch up."

Despite the poor result, Cunningham was confident after the game.

"I'm going to be positive about it," Cunningham said. "You have a new group of players and it's going to take a while for us to gel together and today wasn't the best performance. I still think we're a very good team and after we make some technical improvements, we'll be OK. Right now we need to concentrate on defending as a team and once that happens and we're not giving up goals I can guarantee we'll start scoring."

Ellinger also saw the importance in looking past the loss. "It's a long season," he said. "I'm not going to push any panic buttons because of this."

Danny Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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