This has not been a good year for RSL. They had actually won two games this year prior to last week’s victory over DC United, but neither counted for their league record. So to finally get that monkey off their backs is bound to be a good thing. At 1-5-6 they are still in the basement of the league, but perhaps this is a turning point. I wouldn’t bet my house on it, but I will remain optimistic.
It’s easy to blame the horrifying season on the departure of certain key players, although that probably doesn’t tell the whole story. It didn’t help that keeper Scott Garlick decided to retire shortly before the first game, for example, but the lack of offense has been their primary problem. With that in mind, the decision to give Jason Kreis a permanent seat on the bench was a bit puzzling. This was followed by trading last year’s leading goal scorer, Jeff Cunningham.
The most recent deal sent veteran Chris Klein to Los Angeles, which doesn’t leave very many big-name, big-reputation guys on the team. Combine that with Eddie Pope’s announced retirement and Freddy Adu (who came to RSL primarily to play for fired coach John Ellinger) pining for the European leagues, and the team seems headed for a more of the same.
But, the recent win may have given fans a glimmer of hope for the future. Robbie Findley, who was acquired in the Klein deal, scored two goals in his debut with the team. Forward Alecko Eskandarian swapped places with Cunningham, and he has shown flashes of his lauded ability while coming back from a concussion. Nick Rimando seems to be getting comfortable in the net lately. So, the foundation of a winning team might be there. They are in last place in their conference (and the entire league), but only one team in the conference has fewer losses than RSL. It is not outrageous to think they could climb right back in the race if they can put a winning streak together.
The greater question is: will they? Real Salt Lake has only scored 11 goals in 12 games this season, which pretty stingy even for the Western Conference where leader FC Dallas has 19 goals in 15 games. It could be worse, though. Three different teams in the Eastern Conference have scored 20+ goals in their first dozen games (New England 24, New York 24, Kansas City 23).
It would be nice timing if RSL made the playoffs this year. The dispute over the stadium has polarized a lot of potential fans, and a successful campaign might soften a few hearts. Even more important is the long-term success of soccer in this market. There is a great deal of potential between strong youth programs and immigration from soccer-loving parts of the world. Even the interest generated through returning LDS missionaries is significant. There is an opportunity to create a strong center of soccer interest here, and RSL is a major part of that.
Does that mean soccer in the greater Salt Lake City market will fail if RSL only wins 4 games this year? Well, probably not… but I think we stand a good chance of finding out.
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