A few games without a loss can really change a team. Not so long ago, Real Salt Lake were watching games slip away after unconvincing play that was also lacking in conviction. Following a two-game win streak, we were talking about a new team. This past weekend, RSL showed something that we really haven't seen before. The team played with confidence and belief. Going down a goal on two occasions, and even losing a man to a red-card ejection, RSL never wavered in their conviction. They actually look like they now believe that they can win games!
RSL came out after halftime a goal down and really went after Colorado. It finally paid off about midway through the half. A phantom penalty was called for Real Salt Lake, as Rapids defender Mike Petke handled the ball about two yards outside the box. Good call, bad call, it didn't matter to RSL, which had battled to put itself in a position where good things could happen. So RSL takes the bogus call, and watches gleefully as Jeff Cunningham continued his remarkable streak of goals off the bench (four now in the last 97 minutes) by burying his penalty kick into the right side netting of the goal.
As the game wore on, RSL played as if they really thought that they could win it. Even as Atiba Harris committed his biggest mistake yet as a young player and put RSL in an even deeper hole, the team never wavered. Harris, already playing with a yellow card, was foolish enough to attempt several hard, ill-advised challenges, and he finally received a second yellow for a reckless tackle in the 82nd minute. As he walked off the field, I should hope that the reality had dawned on him that he had left his team in a very difficult situation. Two minutes later, he must have felt even worse.
Poor marking on a corner kick led to the second goal of the day conceded by RSL on a set piece. No one was happy, and the team could easily have folded their tents - by all accounts, last year's team would have. Being a man down and a goal down with very little time left is about the last place you want to be. In RSL's case it would seem as if that mountain that they have been climbing all season, suddenly got steeper and actually insurmountable.
Like a pesky fly at the holiday barbeque that won't leave you alone, RSL wouldn't go away. In spite of the odds being stacked against them, the team soldiered on valiantly. They weren't just finishing out the game, they were actually believing that they could get some points. In the 88th minute, the team scored a goal that typified their effort and newfound belief. Jeff Cunningham a.k.a. Super Sub, continued to add to his point total, as he flicked a ball on to an alert Jason Kreis. As he lurked between Colorado's central defenders, Kreis showed the knack for goal that has made him the league's all-time leading scorer. He reacted more quickly than anyone else to get to the flicked ball, and courageously slid into a collision with Colorado's keeper, slotting the ball by him.
Even after scoring, RSL continued to push, showing a sense of belief, and lack of willingness to settle. I was speaking to a friend who is a star on another MLS team, and his comment probably echoed the sentiments of most people watching. He said, "They actually look like they think they can win games now."
Confidence is such a fragile thing. Whether it is present or absent, it is as obvious to those around you as whether you are clothed or not. After an early season of futility, RSL appears to be getting dressed, and ready.
Robin Fraser, a five-time MLS Best XI selection and two-time MLS Defender of the Year, ended his 10-year MLS career and 16-year professional career last October, and now begins his first season with RSL as the team's color television analyst. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Fraser amassed 27 caps for the U.S. National Team and was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the inaugural MLS draft.
Comments? E-mail Robin and the entire RSL broadcast crew at fun@RealSaltLake.com, and your e-mail could be featured in the Computech "Fan Feedback" feature on all RSL on KSL and FSN Utah broadcasts, as well as on KALL 700 AM.