Real Salt Lake began the 2012 MLS season on a tear. The team burst from the gates, winning five of their first six games. The way they were playing, and the way the rest of the league was playing, it appeared RSL were on their way to capturing their first Supporters' Shield.
Then came June.
Still in first place, RSL suffered back-to-back home defeats to the LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes. Tack on another loss at Columbus, and RSL had their first three-game losing streak since October of 2011.
The slide continued through much of the summer and into early fall before the team regrouped and finished strong to grab the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. An early ouster at the hands of Seattle finished the year and, in large part, the makeup of the team.
Best Moment of the Year
On September 18 in Panama, Real Salt Lake's hopes of advancing in the CONCACAF Champions League were ticking away as stoppage time ran out. Tied 0-0 with Tauro, RSL needed a win if they wanted any chance at moving on when they played Costa Rica's Herediano the following month at the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.
Then Álvaro Saborío collected a pass inside the penalty area and pushed the ball past the 'keeper, who reached out and fouled the Costa Rican. Unknown at the time, the foul had actually caused Saborío a sprained AC joint, but that didn't stop RSL's all-time leading scorer from stepping up and burying the penalty kick.
Although RSL ended up drawing with Herediano and didn't advance, Sabo kept the dream alive.
Worst Moment of the Year
Other than the disappointment of being knocked out of the playoffs in the Western Conference semis, there is one game that RSL can easily look back on as a worst moment.
Already beginning to fall further behind in the Supporters' Shield race, Real had a chance to make up some ground when they played San Jose on July 14.
The two teams were playing fairly even, with San Jose leading 1-0, but things fell apart in the 57th minute. Team captain Kyle Beckerman was shown a red card, and things quickly deteriorated after that. The Quakes went on to score four more goals over the next half-hour, handing RSL their second-worst defeat, 5-0, in club history.
Considering forward Saborío scored 17 of the team's 46 goals, there was a pretty good shot it would be one of his tallies. With that in mind, we'll listen to the Costa Rican when he said his favorite or best goal of the year was when he completed his hat trick against Chivas USA on Sept. 29.
Sabo collected the ball off the rebound of a Will Johnson shot at the top of the 18-yard box with his back to goal, and he turned his body toward the net in one motion and lofted a perfectly weighted right-footed chip that clipped off the underside of the crossbar near the far post and over the goal line.
There really is almost no way to choose only one of Nick Rimando's masterpieces as his best save of the season, so we'll cheat a little here and take two — at least both were in the same game and in the same minute of action.
In the first leg of RSL's playoff series with Seattle, the veteran 'keeper made two world-class saves off of Mauro Rosales corner kicks. Sammy Ochoa headed a corner toward the lower-right corner of the net before Rimando got a hand on it, making an incredibly acrobatic stop and knocking it over the crossbar. On the ensuing corner, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado connected on an even more powerful header that looked destined for the net, but Rimando was again up to the task, changing direction in an instant and reaching back to get a glove on the ball and knocking it out again.
There is no doubt RSL's MVP comes down to two players.
Without Saborío, RSL's offense often became stagnant and unable to generate goals. And during the times when the offense wasn't scoring, Rimando continually made plays to keep the team in the game, earning 12 shutouts along the way.
If they could be co-MVPs, this would be simple, but to give the award to only one player makes it extremely difficult. In the end, if the other team never scores, you can't lose, so with the incredible seasons both had, the award goes to Rimando.
This was another case where there were two deserving candidates. Sebastian Velasquez burst onto the scene with RSL in 2012. Coming straight from playing junior college soccer, Velasquez started five of the team's first seven games. When all the regulars for Real regained their health, the 21-year-old pretty much disappeared from the starting XI until the final three games of the season.
Velasquez was close to taking this one, but the newcomer award goes to Jonny Steele. The 26-year-old from Northern Ireland was a steady contributor for the club — even scoring a pair of game-winners early in the season. In all, the midfielder played in 28 of RSL games scoring two goals with two assists and with his fiery personality adding six yellow cards along the way.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep him around, as RSL declined the midfielder's option after the season.
1. Forward reinforcements: Outside of Saborío, the cupboard is empty. The team's second-leading scorer, Fabián Espíndola, was traded away. Paulo Jr. was picked up in the Re-Entry Draft by Vancouver. Emilio Bonfigli's contract was not renewed, and midseason pick-up Justin Braun was been traded away. The most pressing need is finding guys that can put the ball in the back of the net.
2. Fill the gaping holes left by Johnson and Jámison Olave: Which of RSL's young players will be able to take Johnson's place? The Canadian was a workhorse in the midfield. Does his absence open room for Luis Gil (right), or perhaps Velasquez and end-of-the-year signee David Viana? Might there even be a new player in the mix via the SuperDraft or signing? It will be interesting to see who steps in and fills the roles.
Chris Schuler is expected to take over for Olave, but he had major health issues last season and Kwame Watson-Siriboe proved he was capable. Newly acquired Aaron Maund, who was brought in from Toronto in exchange for Justin Braun, is another player that will be fighting for that spot.
3. Discover who is going to be Rimando's primary backup: Longtime backup Kyle Reynish was allowed to leave this offseason, but RSL picked up Jeff Attinella and retained Eduardo "Lalo" Fernandez, who sat out most of last season with a broken arm.
Real originally drafted Attinella in first round of the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft, but he was released before the start of the season. He kept his head up, though, and just led the Tampa Bay Rowdies to the NASL title and was named to the NASL Best XI.