SANDY, Utah — About 20 minutes into overtime in their Western Conference semifinal against the LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake was standing pretty. They were up 2-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate, and all they had to do was keep the LA Galaxy from scoring for another 10 minutes.
Then, forward Alvaro Saborio pulled a muscle and had to come out of the game — and RSL head coach Jason Kreis had already used all three of his substitutions.
“The first thing I'm thinking, honestly, is — I probably am a stupid coach again,” Kreis told reporters. “Maybe I shouldn't have made that [final] sub. I was trying to analyze in my mind as quickly as I could if I could have held a sub so we wouldn't have had to play down a man. But at the end of it all, I don't think you really think about somebody pulling a muscle.”
And despite being down a man, RSL fended off the Galaxy's last-gasp attacks and eliminated the two-time defending MLS Cup champions with a 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto in the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinals series on Thursday night.
“Our guys have been through just about every scenario you can go through in a game this year,” Kreis said, “and I think they should be well-prepared to, hopefully, move forward into the next round and beyond.”
Until Chris Schuler scored the series-winning goal in the 102nd minute, Thursday night's match was looking like the long string of home-game failures RSL has suffered in recent years. That came complete with a header off the crossbar and a shot off the post, which was like “deja vu all over again" for Kreis.
“I started to think to myself, 'It's going to be one of those nights. They'll catch us on a counter or something and we'll walk away from here scratching our head that we couldn't put one of those away,'" said Kreis.
But from the time he arrived at the Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, Kreis said he felt “a little bit of a different feeling” than in those past failures.
And what was better about his team's play on Thursday than on the previous Sunday, when the Galaxy claimed the first leg 1-0?
"For me, honest to God, every time Real Salt Lake wants to win the game more than their opponent, we win it," said Kreis. "And tonight, we wanted it more than the LA Galaxy.”
Beyond that, he was positively bursting that his team took down the defending champs.
“This wasn't a game we were supposed to win,” Kreis said. “This wasn't an oppnent that we were much better than. This wasn't a game where we could come in and draw and advance. We had to win.
“Our backs were against the wall. We were the underdogs. And our guys went out there and showed what it means to be part of a team.”