TUKWILA, Wash. — The pressure's on. And Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis does not dodge the issue.
"There's no doubt that any time you put a little extra tension, or have thoughts like that, it can be a little bit of a drawback," Kreis explained on Thursday afternoon at the Starfire Sports Complex, where his RSL side went through their final training session before Friday's Western Conference Semifinal first leg against Seattle (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). "From my point of view, you need to flip it, and look at it the other way. This is an incredible opportunity we have — there's no extra pressure on us. The pressure's the same."
And it's been the same, according to Kreis, ever since RSL hoisted their first — and to date, only — major trophy, back in 2009 when they won the MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field. That team, which beat the favored LA Galaxy on penalty kicks, was the culmination of a years-long building effort.
This year's team — older and wiser, but some would say more vulnerable — largely consists of the same guys. Kreis stalks the sideline. Nick Rimando is in net, shielded by Nat Borchers and Jámison Olave. Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Will Johnson are all still in the midfield, running that diamond that's earned the Claret-and-Cobalt so many plaudits.
It's also earned them some expectations. And with those come some painful losses.
"We've created that pressure because of how well we've played," Kreis said. "We've earned the right for people to kind of say, 'You should win,' and we feel the same way about ourselves."
But no matter how much they've felt it since that triumph three autumns ago, the fact is they haven't done it. They came up just short of catching the Galaxy for the 2010 Supporters' Shield. They came up just short a year later against Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League finals.
Then just a week ago, they were bounced out of the continental championship in the group stage after failing to find the net at home against Herediano.
Just short, once again.
And now it's time that may be running short, as age and salary cap concerns have the RSL brain trust thinking about breaking up the band. There's a good chance that this is the last chance — the last run-through for a team that will always hold a hallowed place in MLS lore for the way they've played the game, but badly want to be remembered for more than one night in the Seattle rain.
"The guys are excited about this, as I say, 'opportunity,'" Kreis offered. "That's the word that I think should be used more, is that this is an opportunity in front of us, there's no question about it.
"It's been a while since we've won something," he added. "We've certainly been close a whole lot of times. And you don't get close by being lucky, you get close, you get an opportunity to win things by being good. And so we've done a lot of very, very good things to get close a number of times."
And if this is the last time? Kreis doesn't dodge that issue, either.
"It would certainly be nice to win something again."