Neither Real Salt Lake nor the Seattle Sounders FC is accustomed to losing many matches, let alone losing records.
Yet coming into Saturday’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium, both sides were on the wrong side of .500 in MLS play. In a league of parity, where any club can win on any weekend, it isn’t surprising to see exceptional squads go through winless droughts. After all, the two-time MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy weren’t above .500 last season until late in July.
Still, a look at Real Salt Lake before Saturday’s match and the Seattle Sounders FC immediately following it can tell a lot about how clubs that expect to contend for titles handle struggles.
For Salt Lake players and coaches, success is just a matter of time. Coach Jason Kreis is fond of saying that trophies are won in the fall and not the spring. It is a point that he reiterates after nearly every early-season match. For that reason, it’s not surprising that he balked when he was asked about his side’s 1-2-1 record going into Saturday.
“Wow . . . who was talking about our winning record after the first game?” Kreis said. “We’re going to need to be patient. It’s a tough beginning to the season. Five out of seven on the road is five out of seven on the road.”
That mentality disseminates down to his players, who note they’ve been playing well and feel like good results will eventually come.
“In 2010, we started in similar fashion, maybe even worse,” Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman said in reference to his side’s most successful regular season. “It’s just a matter of time before we open up with some goals and start to really take control of the game by getting goals on the scoreboard. Ultimately, we just have to keep continuing what we’re doing and the results will come.”
That level-headed attitude paid off for Kreis’ side Saturday as it earned its first home win of the season.
But the Sounders are in a different situation. A regional championship, including a birth at the Club World Cup, is on the line on Tuesday as the side will host Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.
With a trophy on the line and a very poor first half against Real Salt Lake, it isn’t surprising that Seattle held a closed-door meeting after Saturday’s loss to discuss what had happened. It also explains why players and coaches were less patient in describing the need to start getting results soon. Still, every coach or player interviewed focused on the quality of play rather than the eventual scoreline.
“There’s going to be a lot of soul searching in that locker room and with us as a staff as well,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’re picking and choosing the times when to play. . . . We’ve yet to get where 11 guys are involved for 90 minutes all the time.”
Like Kreis, Schmid’s attitude toward the challenges faced had clearly trickled down to his locker room. However, also like Salt Lake, the Seattle players conveyed a conviction that better times are ahead for the perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference.
“0-3-1 is not good. That’s the reality,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said. “The good thing is it’s still so early in the season. We can turn it around. Maybe CONCACAF right now is a good escape for us.”
That hope for the future was clearly evident in conversations with Sounders personnel, even if they were clearly frustrated by a poor first half showing. Like the players and coaches of Salt Lake, most Sounders personnel focused on the quality of play rather than actual result.
“We have the players, we have the attitude [to succeed],” midfielder Mauro Rosales said. “Everybody has to step up a little bit more.”
MLS is a bit of an anomaly in the soccer world, as championships aren’t determined by regular season standings. Many an MLS club, including both Salt Lake and Seattle in recent years, has looked virtually invincible at points in the season, only to have its level of play drop off at season’s end and come away without hardware.
That unique circumstance probably explains why dropping a couple points is the least of either coach’s worries as the season gets going. Rather, it is the performances, and the quality of play, that get them fired up. It probably also explains this quote from Kreis, which is something you’d never hear in most leagues around the world.
“I’m just not too concerned about the record and I’m probably not going to be all year.”
Tyler G. Page is the founder of mlsnations.com