Throughout Real Salt Lake's run to the MLS championship the past month, coach Jason Kreis couldn't help but become agitated whenever anyone doubted his club — particularly when the road troubles were brought up. Nevermind that the team finished with a sub-.500 record in the regular season, Kreis was appalled that people didn't think as highly about Real Salt Lake as he did.
That frustration seemed to reach its tipping point last Tuesday when a reporter asked what Kreis thought about a team with a losing record playing for a championship.
"We shouldn't even show up then, should we," snapped Kreis.
The third-year coach no longer has to try and convince people of RSL's quality. In front of a nationally televised ESPN audience, RSL outplayed the mighty L.A. Galaxy throughout most of the match and ultimately claimed the MLS Cup in a shootout victory.
The bar has now been raised.
Fans should no longer tolerate mediocrity from a collection of players that proved throughout the playoffs what they're truly capable of.
Regardless of how Kreis believed his team should be perceived heading into the playoffs, the bottom line was it finished the regular season with an 11-12-7 record and an awful 2-11-2 road record. Both internally and externally, such averageness should no longer be accepted in 2010.
The potential was always there this season as evidenced by RSL finishing with the best home record in MLS. Whenever the team went on the road and lost though, which was often, it was always chalked up to RSL being RSL. The team's all-time road record entering the playoffs was a dismal 10-51-16.
Based on the fortitude, resiliency and at times dominance Real Salt Lake showed in Columbus, Chicago and Seattle over the past three weekends, there are no longer built-in excuses for failure on the road next season. RSL proved it is capable of more.
"We're young and have a lot of promise and a lot of talent, and we all buy into the system that coach wants us to buy into. In two years we took a team on the doormat and became champions," said RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
RSL's captain must now demand more of himself and his teammates in 2010, because expectations will be sky high in Utah. An MLS Cup champion patch on the front of the team's jerseys next season will be a reminder about what it's capable of when dialed in for 90 minutes — and in the playoffs 120 minutes and beyond.
Winning the MLS Supporters Shield for finishing with the best regular season should be the goal in 2010. The team should be disappointed with anything else, but will it? Real Salt Lake will likely downplay the expectations, but it will be hard to ignore them in front of inevitably larger crowds at Rio Tinto Stadium next season.
You can bet Kreis is looking forward to the challenge.
"Towards the end of the season things have become really fun for me as they were last year. There is something gratifying about having an idea or a vision about how you want to put a team together and how you'd like them to play," said Kreis.
Now that RSL has proved how good it can be on the biggest stage, the bar has definitely been raised for 2010.