PORTLAND, Ore. – As far as Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis is concerned, his team's Western Conference title is long overdue.
Since Salt Lake won the MLS Cup in 2009, the team has won a whole lot of games and had absolutely nothing to show for it.
"For me, the most rewarding thing is not about getting to the MLS Cup," Kreis told reporters shortly after his team's 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on Sunday night to close out the Western Conference Championship. "The most rewarding thing is that, finally, this group has won a trophy. Another trophy."
Since beating the LA Galaxy in a shootout to win the MLS Cup four years ago, RSL have been among the top teams in the league – their 63 wins in that time span is second only to the Galaxy. But the Claret-and-Cobalt have consistently come up short. No regular-season conference titles. No Supporters' Shields. No postseason trophies.
"Frankly, in my honest opinion, this team deserves more trophies than they have," Kreis said. "They've put themselves in a position to win so many times and have just been unfortunate not to."
And it's not just that RSL have failed to win a trophy in MLS play. They lost in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2011. And two months ago, there was the devastating loss to lowly D.C. United in the final of the US Open Cup. Which makes the 5-2 aggregate win over Portland that much sweeter.
"Amazing! Amazing!" RSL midfielder Javier Morales told MLSsoccer.com. "We've been looking for this for a long time. Almost in 2010, almost in 2011, and now we're finally here."
And finally something to show for all those wins.
"I think that this is a very deserved trophy, both for what we've done over the regular season and certainly in the playoffs," Kreis said. "But more so for what we've done now for five years in a row."
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Oddly enough, this is Real Salt Lake's first-ever Western Conference championship. When they won the MLS Cup in 2009, they went into that match as the Eastern Conference champions after squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth and final team and – under the format MLS employed at the time – heading east to face first Columbus, then Chicago on the way to the final.
"That was great," RSL captain Kyle Beckerman told MLSsoccer.com. "This feels great but I guess we're kind of halfway there. It feels awesome, but there's still something out there."
Having finally broken through to grab some hardware, RSL are ready to do it again when they face Sporting Kansas City for the MLS Cup on at Sporting Park Dec. 7 (4 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas, TSN2/RDS in Canada).
"You get to win two trophies if you go all the way," Beckerman said. "So, yeah, this is fun, but we've still got some work to do."