Round 3 vs Real Salt Lake
Everything is a little irie these days in the high Wasatch Mountain air at Rio Tinto, the home field of the unexpected 2009 MLS Champions, Real Salt Lake. The Claret and Cobalt had a pomp and circumstance home opener. Their 2009 MLS Championship banner unveiled and championship rings distributed. Rio Tinto has indeed been a kind pitch to RSL serving up a 13, and now 14 game undefeated streak at home. They have still never lost a home opener. Barely!
“Iron, Lion, Zion” the Bob Marley song, is joyously chanted after every RSL home victory. Against the Sounders, the undefeated home opening streak, and high irie air looked to be left unfilled of Marley’s song. After a full 90 minutes with Seattle leading 2-1, the 2009 MLS Champs home opening win streak, and 13 home match undefeated streak all looked lost. Faced with the reality of no crowd pleasing Marley ditty, a sad eyed look crept over Leo the Lion’s face (the RSL mascot). The side ref held up the stoppage time sign with 4 minutes. A little more than usual for an MLS match, but not unusual, and this is Real Salt Lake where they are the champs. So why argue, right? On the footballing Isle of Britain, where Sir Alex Ferguson decrees stoppage time at Manchester United matches, 4 minutes would be considered a shame, despicable, a real insult to the fans and to the game. Visitors coming to Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home pitch, believe Sir Alex has so much pull that eventually the stoppage time sign held up by the side ref will read “until we score”. But this is the kinder, gentler MLS, so 4 minutes is kind. Irie and kind.
For 90 minutes Sounders FC frustrated RSL. Even being outplayed in stretches, the Sounders showed they were resilient and would endure the champs. Four added minutes seemed a short exhale to relief. Three and a half of those four zipped by. There would be one last corner for Real Salt Lake. No panic in Seattle, because after the corner, Keller boots the ball down field followed by the refs end of game bright whistle tweets. Then, Rave Green joy celebrated on the champs home pitch. Who would question this calculation of confidence? Because in soccer there is no “buzzer beater”. No ‘hale Mary” pass. There is also no US sports team as high and irie in altitude and attitude as this Real Salt Lake team. The talented, but undisciplined step cousin of Real Madrid. You know the one I mean. The cousin with the window open every time you step in his room. Even in winter. The one that says to you “dude chill” and “check this out”, more than you are comfortable with. The one who never studies but passes everything with flying colors and says “dude you just got’ta put yer antenna’s out there, and stuff, all kinds of crazy great stuff will come to you man” You know the type right? OK, OK, OK, maybe that’s personal, but you still like, totally know what I mean, right? Excuse me for a moment, pffffft, pffffft, pffffft, . . . heh . . . eh-heh . .. … .. . ….. .eh-heh eh-heh, ahhh yah !!!
The 94th minute came. A corner to Real Salt Lake. Their man from Argentina, Nelson Gonzalez goes to Seattle’s right corner. He fires a cross into the box, hitting a ball swinging slightly away from goal that finds his Costa Rican teammate, Alvaro Saborio, who jumps into action and cracks a header from the center of the box past Keller, and into the left corner of Seattle’s goal. End of game.
They “gon’na be Iron, like a Lion in Zion”. Wait, wait, wait, hold the music. This is a 2-2 draw, so why are they singing? Are there no rules in Salt Lake? They celebrate everything that is good and beautiful about soccer and no one is telling them to come back to reality. This was a buzzer beater plus hale Mary corner from a Real Salt Lake team so Irie, it doesn’t know it can not do what it is actually doing. This team keeps saying “dude check this out”. They won a championship winning only 11 games and lost 12. Yes, lost more than they won. A Western Conference team that barely made the playoffs. They were outcasts in the bizarre MLS Playoff alignment, which placed them into the Eastern Conference. Their first round foe, the 2008 champs, Columbus Crew. Somehow they got past Columbus, and the Chicago and won the Eastern Conference trophy. Are you a little buzzed yet? Yes. You heard me right. You are reading me correctly. Real Salt Lake, a Western Conference team is the reigning Eastern Conference champion. It is certain they will never defend this title. They went on to the MLS final against Landon Donovan and Beckham, and eventually won in a penalty shootout after 120 minutes of soccer drawn at 1-1.
I am a Sounders fan, Rave Green to the core, but hey, let them sing in Salt Lake. Any team that can invent a last second game winner in soccer when there is no such thing. Especially when the outcome is a 2-2 draw and not even a win. That high mountain creativity deserves victorious celebration. So yes, this dude abides, for Real Salt Lake. I say let them be “Iron like a Lion in Zion”!