SEATTLE – Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis was honest with himself in the hours leading up to his team’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg showdown against the Seattle Sounders.
“I knew that at some point it was gonna be just them, wave after wave, serving balls into our box, and how we dealt with them,” Kreis said. “I really did expect us to be better with the ball than we were tonight.”
RSL were uncharacteristically sloppy, and Seattle did spend the last 70 minutes of the game pumping ball after ball into the box.
But in the end, Kreis’ team made use of their 3-0 aggregate lead and advanced to the Western Conference Championship despite a 2-0 loss on the night. It was, in the words of defender Chris Wingert, a “loss that felt like a win.”
Nonetheless, Wingert and the entire backline are in for some extra studying ahead of the West final, be it on Sunday in LA against the Galaxy or Monday night at home against the Red Bulls.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Kreis said. “With the amount of balls they served into their forwards, they forced a lot of mistakes. We’ll need to take the next couple of days and really, really review the video critically with our players.”
But before they do that, they get to bask – just for a bit – in advancing past a very tough Seattle team.
“It’s funny – watching the game I was thinking, ‘Isn’t this our year?’” Kreis said. "Watching the series, really. Four days ago we were just completely dominant, and tonight we were back on our heels and being completely dominated.
“Sometimes that can be difficult to figure out, but our guys battled through and believed in each other, kept at it through some very, very difficult play and difficult decisions by the referee, and a difficult atmosphere. So we move on and we’ll look for a better performance the next round.”
The officiating decision that drew particular ire was an early second-half penalty call against Tony Beltran after Seattle attacker Michael Fucito went down in the box.
“I thought it was a travesty, an absolute travesty,” Kreis said of referee Jair Marrufo’s decision to award the penalty that Osvaldo Alonso would convert in the 55th minute, making the aggregate 3-1 and giving the Sounders some life. “Our player got pulled down, and for some – I don’t know if he got color-blind at the moment – but that was ridiculous.”
Six minutes after the penalty Lamar Neagle made it 2-0 on the night, and it was suddenly squeaky-bum time, in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson. With the crowd into it and the Sounders rolling, RSL spent much of the game’s last third clearing their own end then getting ready for another wave – just as Kreis had suspected they would.
And the fact that his team bent but didn’t break after what the coach agreed was a poor performance is a talking point that Kreis feels can be spun to the good for the next 90 minutes – whoever they may be against.
“In some ways it may have been good that we didn’t play that well tonight,” Kreis explained. “To get our feet back on the ground and to say the team that won the [first leg] 3-0, that was probably the peak of the peak. And this may be the low of the low, so we need to get back somewhere in the middle next weekend.”