SANDY -- The final story of Real Salt Lake's 2012 campaign is largely dependent on the measuring stick used to assess it.
On one foot, the Claret-and-Cobalt enjoyed a record-setting year establishing new franchise totals for wins (17) and points (57), as well as goals (46), assists (43) and shutouts (17).
Individually, striker Alvaro Saborio set a new single-season scoring record with 17 goals, and had two hat tricks. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando had a new franchise record with 16 wins in the net.
"Let's be fair, our guys worked so hard for it," Real boss Jason Kreis said. "Really the whole year for me, extremely proud of this group, extremely proud of the effort they put forth tonight. A lot of good things came out of this year, with numbers of wins and numbers of points, and we broke some records for our club, so there were definitely some positive things that we should remember."
On the other foot, Salt Lake isn't a team that prides itself in moral victories and regular-season accomplishments. It's a team that is built to contend for, and win, trophies and championships.
And on that side of the ledger, the year was a failure.
And perhaps even more stinging for RSL was the fact that all three of its most crushing losses came inside the walls of the formerly unbreakable Rio Tinto Stadium.
First up was its disastrous U.S. Open Cup match against second tier Minnesota, a match that Real's ownership paid heavily to move from Minneapolis to Sandy to give Salt Lake its best chance to advance.
It ended was a 3-1 loss.
Next up was the group stage finale of the CONCACAF Champions League against CS Herediano out of Costa Rica.
While not technically a loss, Salt Lake's failure to score at home in 0-0 draw, despite numerous opportunities, when it only needed a 1-0 result to advance was at the least disheartening to a team that treats the CONCACAF regional tournament as being on equal footing or more to the Major League Soccer season.
And lastly was the blow that sank the season for Real, when Seattle dealt the Utah side a 1-0 loss in the second leg of its Western Conference semifinal series, ending RSL's hopes for claiming the MLS Cup and any hardware during the year.
"We had a lot of fun times. At the end of the season there is only going to be one team that is really happy. But, we had a lot of positives this year," Real midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "It's been a while since we scored. I miss celebrating and all that stuff. We just came up short. We gave everything we've got and put the pressure on them. We created a couple of chances that we needed to and we didn't score."
The fine line between success and failure for Real Salt Lake will likely ultimately be defined by its final five matches of the year, when it failed to score a single time after a 2-1 road win at Los Angeles on Oct. 6. That match proved to be a crossroads for both teams, as RSL's offense collapsed and the Galaxy ignited on their way to earning a berth in the MLS Cup, which they will host at the Home Depot Center.
"It's a bit of a crapshoot, it always has been over the years and it is what it is," Real midfielder Will Johnson said after the Seattle match. "It's fun and we enjoy playing in these kind of games. There's so much on the line and anyone can get the MLS Cup. Obviously we experienced that ourselves one year."
Real, after setting a franchise record for goals scored in a season, endured a 512-minute scoreless streak to end the year lasting from the 28th minute of that match with the Galaxy to the end of its match with the Sounders.
"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... it falls on everybody to create good goal scoring chances and to take goal scoring chances."
With several key contracts expiring, including that of long-time playmaker Javier Morales, Real heads into the offseason with a lot of questions that need answering. And despite the regular season success the team has had since winning the MLS Cup in 2009, it has still fallen short repeatedly since that feat, meaning that this offseason could well mark the end of an era for Real.
"Obviously we didn't achieve any of our goals this season, and the reality of this business is it's cut throat," Johnson said. "Everybody wants your job and this is a fantastic club to play for, and there's a lot of people that want to fight for the RSL jersey, so you can expect changes.
"But that's the reality of the business, and we have enough experienced guys in this locker room who get that."