SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake’s formula for success in 2012 is simple: Win MLS Cup and advance to the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
“If we achieve those, we succeed,” RSL GM Garth Lagerwey told local media of his squad’s targets this season. “If we don’t, we fail. It’s very black and white this year ... period. End of story.”
Notably absent from that list is the Supporters’ Shield, a stated goal for the Claret-and-Cobalt in the past. In their last two seasons, RSL have fallen just short the past two seasons, losing out to the LA Galaxy, who just happen to be RSL's season-opening opponents on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“I don’t care about Supporters' Shield,” Lagerwey said. “It is the regular-season championship. Who cares? The Supporters' Shield is meaningless now. You are playing two thirds of your games against the Western Conference and one third against the Eastern. It’s an unbalanced schedule. It is reflective, in my opinion, of nothing.”
In addition to MLS Cup and the CCL, Lagerwey is also open to the US Open Cup as a potential area for success, but isn’t planning on expending the team’s full resources on it.
“If you can compete in the Open Cup and you can go deep there, that will be as good of a reflection as any because it will probably be a younger team playing in those games,” the RSL GM explained. “It’s a good sign for the future if we’re able to do well in that tournament. So I hope to have a good run in the Open Cup for different reasons than the other stuff.”
Since their MLS Cup 2009 triumph over the Galaxy, RSL have become one of the most dominant teams in MLS. Featuring a core group of players that had weathered the subpar pre-Cup performances, the club set a string of records in 2010, including fewest goals conceded in an MLS season. In 2011, RSL made it to the Champions League final and finished the regular season with the league’s third-best record, bouncing the vaunted Seattle Sounders in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
In neither season, however, did the club’s success translate to trophies.
“Everybody’s been around at least three years in this core group,” Lagerwey said. “We kept this group together for one reason – to win, and to win titles. We will be judged and we will be successful if we win titles.
“Moral victories don’t work anymore,” Lagerwey continued. “We made it to the finals of CONCACAF Champions League [last Spring]. We lost. We agonized over it for six months. It’s gone. It’s in the past.”