One Trophy from 2009, and it’s time for number Two
Deep in the heart of Utah, clad in the blue and red of Real’s kit, sitting in the stands at the Rio Tinto Stadium, the fans of Real Salt Lake are hoping that it’s time for their club to bring home their second major trophy. With the team that has been so close to success in nearly every tournament that an MLS club can get into, it seems that if they can’t win the final of some major tournament soon then their most important players will begin to look elsewhere. A team that “stole” David Beckham’s first championship, and a team that proved a few years ago that as long as you get hot when you make the playoffs then the cup can be yours, this team is ready to assert themselves as a true western power if they can snag this year’s title or at least make an extensive playoff run.
With their playoff dreams assured, the only thing left to chance at this point is whether they snag the third seed in their conference or if they have to take advantage of their impressive points total that seems to accompany being in the “all-powerful” Western Conference. The MLS playoff system is a massive tangle of confusion, but Real has taken advantage of a massively positive mid-season run to assure that no matter how the Eastern Conference turns out, they will be at the big dance.
The biggest problem for Salt Lake is their recent run of form. They haven’t won a game in their last five matches. That wouldn’t be such a big problem if they had one less game than the entire league. They only have one match left, and even with that it is doubtful that they can have any serious momentum when the playoffs get here. The other problem that they see in these playoffs is their dismal away record. They have one of the best home records in the league, but the odds are that they won’t play more than one game in their home stadium. They have only won five away games, with eight draws and four losses. This will probably be worst the away record of any Western Conference team in the playoffs (I say probably because if the Timbers sneak in, then their record of only two away victories will make Real look like a dominant travelling squad). If they can get some home games in the playoffs, they will be favored against almost anyone: they are tied for the fewest losses at home in the league.
This year is also important because of the uncertainty surrounding their captain’s future. Kyle Beckerman, with his recent call ups to the international squad, is being highly touted as a very dependable defensive midfielder across European leagues. With many squads in Europe beginning to run formations that call for at least one of these types of players (sometimes two), he has been on the watch list of many teams in Europe. If Beckerman leaves, then expect their decent defensive record (tied for 3rd best in the league) to become a thing of the past, and at the risk of sounding cliché, offense wins games, but defense wins championships.
With their ability to defend pretty well, their goal scoring finding themselves in the top half of the league, and their overall record allowing them into the playoffs automatically this year (the year they won it all, they had a losing record), Real has a pretty good shot at this thing. Factor in that they have recently gotten farther than anyone in the North American Champions League (only MLS team to even make a final), then they should have some confidence about their ability in a tournament style competition. This very well could be the year that they make their trophy cabinet seem not-quite so empty.
Real will definitely look to the playoffs to get themselves out of their current slump, and they will certainly expect to easily handle any team from the Easter Conference if they find themselves on their side of the bracket. The only team that Real should hope that they avoid is the L.A. Galaxy. The Galaxy still feel robbed from 2009, and they will be out for blood if they get Salt Lake at any point. However, the pressure will swing both ways, since the Galaxy will be terrified of having a repeat of 2009.
So let’s see if Real Salt Lake can have more championship success than their Real counterparts in Spain. If they are able to snag the prize this year, then they may retain Beckerman’s services and become a true contender for years to come.
Written by: Andrew McCole, MLS correspondent, soccerprose.com
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