They may walk around with the swagger of a 32-game home unbeaten streak and the bravado of a team with the title of defending champions, but make no mistake about it: RSL are in trouble entering the second leg of their playoff series against FC Dallas.
It’s the manager’s job to inject positivity into his side after an adverse result, and Jason Kreis did his duty in the locker room after last Saturday’s 2-1 loss in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals. There was still plenty of optimism to go around in defeat, but it's all RSL have to hang their hats on.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
The Claret-and-Cobalt left Pizza Hut Park knowing they delivered FCD the strongest of uppercuts, and it still wasn’t enough. After taking a fifth-minute lead, RSL proceeded to harass the home team with an asphyxiating pressing like few have all season. The blow to FCD's morale was evident.
But it wasn’t enough to bury Dallas when they were at their most vulnerable. And that should have Real Salt Lake worried.
On top of that, a red card will keep Kreis’ talismanic playmaker, Javier Morales, out of the second leg after. And if that wasn't enough, they allowed FC Dallas a magic moment the likes of which memorable playoff runs are made.
Before Saturday, RSL drew first blood 17 times this season in MLS, and only the Houston Dynamo came back to win after two penalty-kick gifts from defender Jamison Olave.
This weekend, it was FCD's turn to do the unthinkable on the heels of two straight losses to close out the regular season. But thanks to Saturday’s playoff comeback over RSL, Schellas Hyndman’s team can now start to believe again.
On the field, Kreis was disappointed in how RSL tactically managed the 1-0 lead. He felt they were once again fatigued and players committed too many errors.
WATCH: Kreis' postgame reaction
The wounds of the many battles of 2010 continued to take a toll on the champs. Forward Alvaro Saborio was forced out of the match and midfielder Will Johnson did not start because of a hamstring injury.
Kreis says his team needs energy to play their style of soccer and when they don’t have it, it spells trouble. Who's to say they will find that energy next weekend in the return leg?
In sports, the mainstream opinion is often swayed by the flavor of the week. And everyone has been enamored by the RSL story this year, their winning mentality and their style of play. But they are not the invincible team some have made them out to be.
There is nothing that diminishes the mystique of a seemingly invincible team like familiarity, and FC Dallas have now met Real Salt Lake twice in the last 14 days. The Texas club believes RSL’s breakthrough back on Oct. 16 at Rio Tinto was the product of a fluke goal when Ned Grabavoy out-jumped Ugo Ihemelu to score on a header.
“We’re just as confident that we can go in there and win,” FC Dallas captain Daniel Hernandez said after Saturday’s match. “I don’t think we had our best game in Salt Lake a couple of weeks ago, but I think we still could’ve had a result. … We’re going to go in there and look for a win. We have enough confidence in this team, not because of what happened today [2-1 win], but because of the success we’ve had all year.”
Should RSL suffer elimination, it will surely not erase what has been a successful season for them.
And there would be no shame to losing to FC Dallas in the playoffs. Not only did FCD become the only team to beat RSL twice this season, but they also carry the same mantle of positive, attacking soccer that RSL has held all year – a team which plays the same on the road as it does at home.
This year, it just might be FCD’s turn to take the baton from RSL as the darlings of American soccer.