TAMPA, Fla. — Most players don't put too much stock into preseason results, because they can be a bit deceiving.
Thursday's Tom Fitzgerald Memorial match between Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew was a perfect example on a chilly night at the University of South Florida.
With RSL coach John Ellinger using 11 different players each in each half, Real's first teamers grabbed a one-goal lead, but as they went through their postgame cool-down in the locker room, the second teamers gave it away and the Crew walked away with a 2-1 win.
"We go in, we win our first 45 minutes, and that's a win for us in my opinion, and that's all that matters," said Real midfielder Carey Talley. "This is preseason, there would be a lot more pressure on (the second unit) if it were league points and I'm sure they'd do better. But it's new guys trying to get mixed in with the guys battling for positions."
After his team sorted out a few tactics in the first half, Ellinger was very pleased with a lineup that featured 10 of the likely 11 opening day starters. As for the second half, there were some significant "tracking" problems, according to Ellinger, which led to a pair of soft Crew goals in the second half.
It also has RSL's coach rethinking some things with a week remaining before he makes his final roster cuts.
"You kind of think you have your mind made up about some things personnel-wise, but that's why you play the games, and in the second half, (I'm) thinking maybe not," said Ellinger.
As important as the second team is for depth, regular season games are usually determined by the quality of the first unit. After a ragged 10 minutes Thursday, RSL's first group played quite well.
The slow start wasn't anything to be concerned with either, it was a simple numbers issue. RSL didn't expect the Crew to come out in a 4-3-3 formation, but after recognizing the situation Real dropped its holding midfielders a little deeper, and almost instantly Columbus' early dominance ceased.
"Once we got that sorted out, we got Carey and Jason to stay a little bit more; after that I thought we played very well ... and did better with possession," said RSL defender Jack Stewart.
The adjustment helped Real control more of the possession, and in the 14th minute it paid off. On a quick restart, Jeff Cunningham played a through ball up the left side to Mehdi Ballouchy, who tracked it down near the endline and then laid a ball into the box that Atiba Harris one-timed into the upper corner.
"It was good to see that sharpness with that group early on," said Ellinger.
The second unit wasn't nearly as efficient. After holding its own against Columbus' first team for the 15 extra minutes it was on the field in the second half, RSL surrendered a goal to Duncan Oughton just before the Crew made an 11-man substitution.
After that 59th-minute goal, the Crew's Aaron Chandler scored again in the 64th minute and Columbus dominated possession for another 15 minutes before Salt Lake finally sorted things out.
Real's two best scoring chances in the second half came from midfielder Jonathan Bramwell, who couldn't beat the keeper one-on-one less than 30 seconds after entering the game in the 75th minute. In the 83rd minute, Kenny Cutler narrowly missed latching onto a cross from Andy Williams.
REAL'S LINEUP: Scott Garlick (Chase Harrison, 46), Daniel Torres (Willis Forko, 46), Eddie Pope (Scott Palguta, 46), Jack Stewart (Chris Lancos, 46), Carey Talley (Steven Curfman, 46; Jonathan Bramwell, 75), Jason Kreis (Kenny Cutler, 46), Mehdi Ballouchy (Kyle Brown, 46), Freddy Adu (Duke Hashimoto, 46), Chris Klein (Kevin Novak, 46), Jeff Cunningham (Chris Brown, 46), Atiba Harris (Andy Williams, 46).
XANGO DEBUT: Real Salt Lake debuted its jerseys with the XANGO logo on the front for the first time in the Columbus game. The team also received its new practice jerseys, which also feature the XANGO logo.