SANDY, Utah — If something jumps up and bites you, leaving you hurting real bad, typically you try to distance yourself from the source of pain as quickly as possible. But that’s not Real Salt Lake’s reaction to the bitter pain caused by this week’s Champions League failure.
“It’s bitter, to work at something for nine months, and come up with nothing,” explained RSL GM Garth Lagerwey. “At the same time, we’d do it again. I’m proud of the guys. I’m proud of our staff.”
Lagerwey points to several of accomplishments that remain as highlights for him.
“We played two good games in Mexico, and it was difficult, and at Saprissa, and you’re not going to get any more hostile environments than those,” Lagerwey said. “Our team’s better for having gone through the experience, there’s no question about that.”
That certainly isn’t good news for the rest of MLS. RSL are currently undefeated on the season, with four wins and no losses. They have outscored their opponents 8-1, including the 4-1 drubbing of current Western Conference leaders LA. This weekend, they are away to the Portland Timbers (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MatchDay Live), who have won both their home games since opening JELD-WEN Field two weeks ago.
[inline_node:335096]But how will the side react following the bitter CCL disappointment?
“It’s going to be tough,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “Everybody in the locker room is pretty hurt right now, so it’s going to take a lot for us to get back.”
Coach Jason Kreis is anxious to see his team’s response – “We’ll see what kind of group we are now” – but it is perhaps his response that will have the biggest impact on the outcome. He has some selection decisions to make, based on fatigue and form.
Kreis is likely to field a lineup mostly composed of non-starters, similar to what they did in a quick turnaround game against New England a few weeks ago after advancing past Saprissa in the Champions League semifinals.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we put a couple of different faces out there,” Lagerwey said. “Obviously [Beckerman] will be out there, and he’ll lead us.”
Getting Beckerman back is an obvious positive for the side. A win would be an even bigger accomplishment and a start down the path to something vital that has been missing, according to Lagerwey.
“I think the most frustrating thing is I feel like we’ve played pretty good soccer for over a year now, and we haven’t won anything,” he said. “We’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to win championships.”