With a month to go in the season, Real Salt Lake looked like a juggernaut again.
Goals were coming at an explosive clip, the team had regained its road form with back-to-back wins at the Home Depot Center over Chivas and the Los Angeles Galaxy by a combined 6-1 score.
Indeed, riding high on a four-match winning streak and on the brink of CONCACAF advancement, life was good for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
And then, suddenly, in a final, cruel turn, the end of the campaign became one of frustration and futility.
Portents of that final head-scratching turn were visible during RSL's 0-0 draw at Seattle on Oct. 17, a match that saw the Utah side playing with a man-advantage for an hour, yet failing to score.
At the time, it was easy to dismiss the result as a fluke since the team's leading scorer -- Alvaro Saborio -- and one of its key midfield playmakers -- Will Johnson -- missed the match due to national team duty with their respective nations, but looking back it highlighted Salt Lake's inability for anyone other than Saborio and strike partner Fabian Espindola to score a goal.
Real's final goal of the 2012 season came in the 28th minute of its 2-1 road win over Los Angeles on Oct. 6, as the team finished the year on a 512-minute scoreless streak - which encompassed the final 62 minutes against the Galaxy and then the final five matches of the season, including Thursday's 1-0 loss to Seattle in the decisive leg of their Western Conference semifinal series at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"You have to score goals to win games," Real boss Jason Kreis said. "It really comes down a pretty simple game, if you don't score goals you're never going to win games. You have got to win to advance."
Real's sudden offensive stall at the end of the season cost the team nearly every goal it had entering the year.
It failed to advance to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF tournament after a 0-0 draw with Herediano on Oct. 23, it failed to qualify for the 2013/14 CONCACAF Group Stages, and it fell well short of advancing -- and winning -- the Major League Soccer Cup.
Real could fall back on the excuse that Saborio missed two of those final six matches -- including the CONCACAF match -- and was missing numerous key pieces of its lineup in many of those matches, but it wasn't a crutch that Salt Lake was willing to use.
"I think it's important to try to figure out exactly why you're not scoring those goals," Kreis said. "For me again, creating the right number of chances, maybe a few a decisions were wrong in the final third about where the ball needed to go and when it needed to go. I think it's the typical stance that most people would take is that it falls on the forwards, but not for me, no it falls on everybody to create good goal scoring chances and to take goal scoring chances."
And now Salt Lake heads into the offseason with plenty of questions that need answering, especially with several key contracts up for renewal, about what it needs to do to fix those problems.
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.