So when you open the season on the road against the defending Supporter’s Shield champion, it isn’t an easy task. When you do so in an off-season that say you lose 3 All Star level players, plus all but one of your strikers, the task gets harder. Then if you factor in, losing 4 other starting players (Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales, and Ned Grabavoy) for the match, yeah it almost becomes mission impossible. Yet that is exactly what happened to RSL on opening weekend, and the end result was a 2-0 victory over San Jose, and while there are plenty of areas for improvement, it was a very impressive win for a couple of factors.
First to me it showed something that sometimes has been missing over the last 18 months, it showed that old fight until the very finish mentality. Now don’t get me wrong, RSL scored a good number of late goals to get draws or win matches the last couple of seasons, I am talking about a mentality of believing you can win, of believing that you will get one more chance. Think back to 2009, the final match of the regular season and the unlikely goal from Yura Movsisyan that started the run to MLS Cup, or even of the comeback goal in MLS Cup by Robbie Findley, or the PK stops of Nick Rimando? There was something about that team that kept everyone, fans, staff, and players believing. Last year we heard the chant around the stadium, and I loved it, but on Sunday as I watched the work rate, the effort, and the heart of RSL on the pitch, I believed that we finally have gotten it back.
Second, it echo’s the first thing, I saw 11 guys out there fighting for each other, covering for each other’s mistakes, no infighting, just guys giving their all for the collective good. That meant sometimes a player would stop a run a bit early, to make sure there was defensive coverage in case of a turnover. It was Joao Plata losing the ball, but getting right back up running 30 yards to chase the ball down and taking it back for RSL. It was exciting, it was something we have seen at times over the last couple of seasons, but something that I think was rarely whistle to whistle like it was on Sunday.
Finally, I saw fitness at a level that one rarely sees in the midseason was on display. I knew that when the results of the beep test were announced that guys were stepping up, and throughout the pre-season we saw it. It was great to see guys going box to box and chasing every ball they saw, for 90 minutes everyone was giving it their all at a level and rate higher than expected and with a level of ever improving sharpness (did you see the 12 pass combo that culminated with the Beckerman no look pass to Sabo for the 2nd goal?) that didn’t look like the first match of the season, or a lineup missing 7 key players, not in the least.
Yet, I have to remind myself of what Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey often say, you can’t let your highs be too high or your lows too low, it is a long season. Indeed it is, one match down, one win in the record books, and 33 more to go. A long season, 5 of our first 7 away from home, 4 of our first 7 against teams that made the playoffs last year, 2 more against Rocky Mountain Cup rival Colorado. Not an easy way to start the season, but I am not worried about it, I don’t think this is a group that is looking for the easy way to do things. I think this is a group with a large chip on their collective shoulders, and to be honest I like that a lot.
RSL has never won more than 6 road matches in a regular season, they have never had a positive goal differential on the road, but I think last year and hopefully more this year, the team has the attitude (and abilities) to play their style no matter where or who they are playing.
On Saturday, they will take on DC United, a team they have never beaten at RFK, a team that was 12-1-4 at home last year, a team with a plus 20 goal differential at home last year. So what? They have never faced this RSL team, the lineup they see on Saturday will be different that the team that lost 4-1 the last time they played at RFK (in the dog days of summer heat back in 2011). Will RSL win on Saturday, I don’t know but if the team plays with the same energy, the same heart, the same passion they did against high odds last weekend, well anything can happen.
That’s How I See It.