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Real Salt Lake: Kreis, players brace for changes

Expansion draft, salary cap will force decisions

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RSL defender Nat Borchers reacts to the loss in the MLS Western Conference Final on Saturday.

RSL defender Nat Borchers reacts to the loss in the MLS Western Conference Final on Saturday.

Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

Real Salt Lake has already begun putting last Saturday's disappointing Western Conference final result in the rearview mirror and is looking ahead to 2009.

On Monday the technical staff met from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to discuss what direction the team will take heading into next year.

On Tuesday they met at Rio Tinto Stadium for the players' final conditioning test of the season and exit physicals.

Today and Thursday the players will meet individually with the coaching staff to discuss their future with the club. At that time the players will find out if they're being left unprotected for the Seattle expansion draft.

"There's some difficult messages to deliver. We're not in a world where we can have all the players back, there's rules in MLS that are changing, there's (a) salary cap we have to adhere to, and we don't have the allocation money that we had last year," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.

That's what made Tuesday's final training session somewhat emotional for many of the players.

"If you think about it, some of the guys aren't going to be back. That's the way professional sports are," said RSL team captain Kyle Beckerman. "It's a little sad because we had a really good group."

Over the next couple of months the players will go their separate ways before a new group of guys reconvenes at training camp beginning the first week of February.

"We've got to keep that core together that we started this year and just keep moving on, and don't get complacent," said Beckerman.

Of all the steps the franchise took this year, Beckerman said one of the things he's most proud about is the style of soccer Real Salt Lake played. He said RSL almost always tried to play exciting, attacking style soccer that lent itself to bringing fans to their feet.

That was never more evident than during the final 30 minutes of last Saturday's 1-0 loss to New York.

The loss was particularly frustrating to Kreis because in his mind the negative brand of soccer won.

"It's a difficult balance. On the one hand you're charged to win games, but winning the most games isn't always going to be about playing the best soccer. A lot of times they don't go hand in hand. Saturday night was a shining example. Bad soccer won," said Kreis, who reiterated that one result hasn't changed his coaching philosophy.

Moving forward, RSL defender Chris Wingert said it has taken a few days to get over the sting of the loss, but the players are trying to move on with their lives. Everyone is looking forward to some precious time off, but in the back of their minds they're also thinking ahead to next year.

"We're going to have to work hard for nine months to be back in that position, but we know that it's possible," said Wingert.

The transition process that got under way this week isn't an easy one though, especially for Kreis.

"Today's emotionally difficult because you know there's no way you're going to have the same 28 guys that you went to battle with," he said. "We really felt like we went to battle with this group. There were so many highs and lows and so many emotions, and all of these guys were a part of it, and you know you'll never have that same group back."

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com