CARSON, Calif. – Early domination followed by obstacles to overcome followed by a surge and ending with disappointment. All while keeping a fighting mentality and trying to keep their heads above water.
For Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis, nothing could serve as a better representative of his team's season than their Western Conference Championship defeat to the LA Galaxy on Sunday night.
“Tonight’s game, for me, was a microcosm of the season,” Kreis said in his postgame press conference following the 3-1 loss. “We had our disappointments, we had some moments of brilliance, we had some moments of averageness, and so we’re up, down and in the middle.
“But one thing that never changed is our guys fought and fought. Even when they’re down two goals, they’re still fighting. There was no quit in our guys and I’m extremely proud of what they did in this game and even more proud of what they did in the season.”
The focus going into the match was the midfield battle between the two sides: whoever could impose their style would certainly come out on top. For the first half, it looked like it could be Real Salt Lake.
In the opening quarter of an hour, the visitors controlled the match, signaling their intent early with clear chances from Robbie Russell and Chris Schuler in the opening 12 minutes.
Although they gave up a goal to Landon Donovan via a penalty kick, they got the equalizer from Álvaro Saborío soon after and ended the first half with a bang when defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman rang the upright in the closing minutes.
But RSL came out a different team in the second half. Whatever edge they had over the Galaxy quickly dissipated, and LA took advantage of newfound space as Mike Magee scored the game-winner.
Salt Lake had a chance to equalize prior to Robbie Keane’s capper, but Fabián Espíndola was denied by the crossbar. With RSL after another equalizer, LA relied on the counter and the Irishman sealed the match.
The reversal of fortunes in the midfield had Kreis wondering how it was that the match turned.
“I don’t know, to be honest,” he admitted. “I’d have to look back over the video and really analyze. I guess I would question again, how were we with the ball? Were we giving it up cheaply, were we giving it up in bad spots that meant they could get numbers forward and at us? I think probably so.”
Down two goals with 22 minutes remaining, RSL had no choice but to chase the match, a measure that could’ve easily earned them at least two more goals against.
“When you’re down two goals, I don’t know what else you’re going to do,” said Kreis. “You’re certainly not waiting for the last five minutes or the last 10 minutes. … You gotta go for it, and we did and probably should’ve been punished. On a different night we would’ve been, but such is life. When you lose a game by two goals or three goals, it doesn’t matter.”
In the end, Real Salt Lake’s valiant effort against the Supporters’ Shield winners on Sunday night – and their season – came to a close when referee Jorge Gonzalez blew the final whistle. Despite the sour result, Kreis didn’t walk away from the match with a completely bitter taste in his mouth.
“I thought [our performance] was pretty good. I really did think it was pretty good,” he said. “To have two chances go off posts and not score, I think we stretched them again, I think we showed we match up pretty well against LA.
“All things considered, we had a pretty good night. We’d like one or two plays to be different, but at the end of it all, I’m proud of the group.”