I would not call myself a soccer nut. I would not say I am a soccer aficionado. I am definitely not a soccer hooligan, but I enjoy the beautiful game as much as the next guy.
Despite my lack of knowledge as it relates to soccer strategy there is something that I have seen that I think translates to every sport.
Winning a championship gives you confidence, and experience that raise your game to a whole new level.
Case in point: Real Salt Lake.
I realize I am a little biased having spent most of my life in Salt Lake, but hear me out.
Real was not exactly a powerhouse last season. They finished the regular season 11-12-7. For those of you without math degrees that is below .500. They lost more games than they won. They were worse than average.
I have long hated the idea of allowing a team into the playoffs that doesn’t even have a .500 record. Just give the No. 1 seed a bye or something, but if you can’t break even you don’t deserve a shot at the title. But, the rules are what they are, and Real made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.
On a side note I am still confused how a Western Conference team can make the playoffs on the Eastern Conference side of the bracket, but I’ll just run with it.
We all know how the playoffs ended with Real upsetting the LA Galaxy for their first MLS Cup. It was the prime example of a team getting hot at just the right time.
Despite having a road record during the season of only 2-11-2, Real went into the house of the defending champs and put up three goals to win on aggregate 3-2.
They followed that up with another road win at Chicago winning on penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie in regulation.
They capped off their run by upsetting the Galaxy again on penalty kicks in what was a very exciting game. It was an unlikely run that resulted in a hard fought victory.
So what does that run have to do with this year? Maybe nothing, as there are numerous teams in every sport that fall off the map after winning a championship. The Steelers come to mind from this last season.
No matter how much success you have had in the past you have to come out and work hard if you want to keep winning, and that is exactly what Real appears to have done in the offseason.
I realize that it is only one game, and that San Jose isn’t exactly the cream of the crop having finished with the second worst record in MLS last season behind New York, but winning on the road in a season opener in any sport can be challenging.
Real showed the kind of form that will be necessary if they intend to have any chance of defending their title.
Apparently they lived up to a challenge issued them by their coach as well.
“This happens to be a very difficult team to play against,” said head coach Jason Kreis, “ and one of our biggest goals tonight was to get a shutout, so we did that. We answered the questions that I posed to the players—they answered them.”
At the beginning of the season there are always questions to be answered that can only be discovered on the field. Kreis expected a certain level of execution from his players, and they delivered completely getting the shutout and putting up three goals of their own.
They played with a confidence that I can only attribute to one event.
Winning the championship.
They defied the odds and overcame every obstacle that was thrown at them. They have tasted how sweet victory at the highest level of their league can be, and apparently they want more of it.
It is often stated that success breeds success, just look at the Yankees. I think Real Salt Lake took the first step tonight in showing that that phrase can be true for them too.
Soccer fever is starting to build with the World Cup drawing ever closer, and I am so excited to have my team start off their season on the right foot.
The beautiful game is back in action in America.