Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar has some explaining to do. Lost in the loss to Sporting Kansas City, in the shuffle that was a 1-0 RSL lead evaporating into a 3-1 RSL loss amid blue smoke filling the air at Sporting Park Wednesday was a promise he made before the US Open Cup semifinal.
A promise Cassar made to local media that his team would win the Open Cup game in question–which they didn’t. A guarantee of victory so audacious that most fans either laughed at the notion–or ignored his bombastic prediction entirely. He rested seven starters this past weekend, giving the boys in claret and cobalt an opportunity to be fresh as fresh could be. Rusty maybe, but fresh.
Lest you forget Cassar’s prediction, here goes. “I fully stand behind the decision to rest the players,” Cassar said after training Monday and resting most of his starters in a 4-0 loss Saturday at Vancouver. “It’s five games in 15 days with the worst travel in the history of the MLS. It’s impossible. You have to be smart, you have to take care of the players and after a victory on Wednesday, it’s going to look really good.”
Look really good, eh? Nothing looked good in the loss. Not. A. Thing. And so to say your team would win at a place where it has never won reeks of insanity, of stupidity, of empty promises falling to the wayside and quite possibly, a coach who has lost his way with his players. You didn’t hear any RSL players guaranteeing victory–because they know doing so might sound a tad idiotic.
Cassar said all the right things after this loss–except for his empty promise, on which he said nothing–and his players took full responsibility for the loss as they should. But something went left missing, something beyond the fact that on the one time RSL did something right, Olmes Garcia sped behind his defender on a through ball and sliced a half-volley perfectly into the net in the opening minutes.
Life looked promising for the first 20 minutes. And then, as the roar of the crowd filing into their seats grew in this pivotal game, things got tough all over. The home team tied the game at 1-1 going into the half, sending KC’s homer commentators into a screaming frenzy.
The dam that had been RSL’s defense early on began to give way. Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes saw the dam break coming, utilizing the oldest coaching trick in the book: gauging a player’s fitness.
“Most of their guys didn’t play this past weekend but one thing our guys sensed is that they were breathing pretty heavy going into the locker room at halftime,” said Vermes. “Our whole objective was to come out in the second half and get in behind and pressure them. We wanted to be in their end the entire half and I think it paid off.”
Now back to the game. Sometime in the second half, one RSL defender backpedaled, scrambling behind the goalkeeper to slide into his own goal and prevent KC from going up 2-1. Were it not for Tony Beltran, the club’s only All-Star in this back line and said defender and goal-saver, this game would have been a disaster.
As the RSL back line stayed under attack, the center backs were bombarded. One shot after another came fast and furious at goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who was up to the task until the 80th minute.
That was until KC forward Dom Dwyer burst free of his marker and struck a ball at the near post, which clanked and collected into the onrushing clatter of Benny Feilhaber, who arose to see what’s the matter and half-volleyed the offering into the net giving the home team a 2-1 lead.
A misplayed ball by center back Aaron Maund led to a third goal from Sporting KC, ending RSL’s Open Cup dreams in a place where the club has endured so much misery. Another tournament into which RSL traveled deeply–gone just as quickly in the blue haze of Kansas City.
But something else is missing. Where were Nat Borchers? Chris Wingert? Carlos Salcedo? Gone, gone, gone–victims of indecision and frankly, idiocy. Imagine what the back line might look like if those three were still here. Borchers manning center back with Salcedo–because Chris Schuler is hardly ever healthy–and Wingert on the left wing. Sure, Demar Phillips can attack down the flanks, but so could Wingert–and the former RSL left stalwart could defend, too.
Having Maund man the back line like Borchers is like asking a rookie to step in and play quarterback for the New England Patriots like Tom Brady. Not going to happen. And so RSL resembles a shambles, under fire but in a weird sort of way, lacking any fire. Lacking anything resembling a team willing to do whatever it takes to win games, instead of making excuses about the travel and this and that reason and otherwise holding players back for the undeniable big game.
After the blue smoke cleared and the stadium emptied, you would think most RSL fans and media covering the team would have anything to say about Cassar’s crazy guarantee. But no. Life goes on as usual, Kyle Beckerman takes a pay cut and the club signs a new designated player from Boca Juniors–one day too late. At any rate, all is not OK in Salt Lake and if you think it is, you’re as idiotic as the person who predicted a victory in the first place.