Real Salt Lake comes up short in 2011

Nov 15 2011 - 11:36pm

Images

BRET HARTMAN/The Associated Press 
Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan (left) and Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson battle for the ball during the second half of their MLS Western Conference Championship soccer match, on Nov. 6, in Carson, Calif. The Galaxy won 3-1.
BRET HARTMAN/The Associated Press 
Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan (left) and Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson battle for the ball during the second half of their MLS Western Conference Championship soccer match, on Nov. 6, in Carson, Calif. The Galaxy won 3-1.

Expectations can be tricky things.

Aim too high and you're left with egg on your face.

Aim too low and you never reach your full potential.

By most quantifiable measures, Real Salt Lake came up short in its 2011 campaign.

It failed to win the CONCACAF Champions League, despite advancing to the final and needing to score one goal at home to win it.

It failed to win the U.S. Open Cup.

It failed to win the Supporters' Shield, finishing 14 points behind winner Los Angeles.

It failed to win the MLS Cup, bowing out in the Western Conference final to the Galaxy.

The season that began with the highest expectations of any in the club's seven-year history, ended with just one piece of hardware to show for it -- The Rocky Mountain Cup, which came courtesy of winning the season series with rival Colorado.

Yet, when taken as a whole, a complete snapshot of a blistering 45-match season, one that saw one of the emotion on-field losses in franchise history and the gruesome, ugly injury that cost star midfielder Javier Morales most of the year, it's hard to call Real's season a complete failure.

"Deep down, I believed that we were still capable of doing a lot of things," Real manager Jason Kreis told the media last week. "I thought we could win a Supporters' Shield without Javier, and I was saying it right until the dying day."

Like most seasons, especially at the professional level, there were clear stretches of up and down for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

First off was a mid-summer seven-match unbeaten streak that helped the team pick itself up off the mat after a run of poor form after Morales' May 7 injury.

"I honestly think that when you lose players like Javier, you become a little more normal," Kreis said. "You become a little bit more of an average team. You have one less player that makes absolutely special plays out there."

That positive stretch was followed by a negative one as the team lost four of its next five contests, and appeared in danger of play its way out of playoff contention.

Yet again, however, RSL picked itself up off the mat and ripped off a league-best five-match winning streak, a series that included three road wins.

"I think that, above all else, our team kept fighting and kept believing," Kreis said. "And that means a lot to me."

And that fight, that competitiveness, shown through again when the team cast aside a final, late-season winless streak to knock out Seattle in the Western Conference semifinals and earn a shot at the Galaxy with a berth in the MLS Cup on the line.

"I think it's a season where we overcame quite a bit to finish third in the league," RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said last week. "We've had two years of playing pretty good with no titles to show for it, and that's disappointing, but I think we've got a really good team. I think we performed as well as we could under the circumstances."

And there is no doubt, with the squad healthy once again in 2012, that those expectations will once again be pretty darn high.

You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at justinjohnson801@gmail.com

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