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Real Salt Lake: Frozen tundra has major impact on MLS Cup

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Nobody came right out and said it, and nobody was making excuses, but the playing surface at Sporting Park was absolutely horrific.

With bone-chilling temperatures all week, and a game-time temperature of 20 degrees, the field for MLS Cup was frozen in many spots, which had a huge impact on the match.

“The far side of the field was frozen the entire match. The goal box that was down closest to Kansas City’s bench was completely frozen, and made things difficult for both goalkeepers when they had to play in front of it,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis.

RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Ned Grabavoy both said it was like playing on an ice rank.

“Almost thought you were going to get hurt at times,” said Rimando, who noted it was extremely difficult on the West end of the stadium down by RSL’s supporters.

Up until two years ago, MLS Cup was played at a neutral — usually warmer — location, but the league changed the format to reward the team with the better record. Had that been Real Salt Lake, the situation might’ve been worse considering it snowed in Utah on Saturday.

Grabavoy said the surface definitely had an impact on how the game was played too. The slippery conditions limited how often RSL’s outside backs pushed up as well as how many numbers the club pushed forward.

All of the RSL players pointed out that the conditions were the same for Kansas City, but not ideal in the least.

“The league has to (think about it) because playing Dec. 7 in Kansas City is not fun. Either way we tried to give our best like them,” said Javier Morales. “If we play in a place a little bit warmer it’s going to be better for everybody — players, for media and for fans who come watch the game.”

Kreis said if December finals — or a winter schedule — are going to be in MLS’s future, improvements need to be made.

“I think it’s something that not only this club but all the club’s should address in the future, if we’re going to play finals in December we needed to have better heating systems,” he said.

FIRST CHOICE FIRST: Saturday’s MLS Cup marked the first time all season that RSL rolled out its mythical first choice starting lineup.

With Chris Schuler missing a huge chunk of the season with injury, and several RSL players away on national team duty off and on, Kreis never had a chance to use his mythical first-choice lineup until Saturday.

INJURY SUBSTITUTIONS: Real Salt Lake’s two substitutes late in the second half were both injury related. Chris Wingert was replaced by Lovel Palmer in the 72nd minute after reaggravating the rib injury that kept him out of Leg 2 of the Western Conference final.

Kreis said that Luis Gil was replaced by Sebastian Velasquez in the 87th minute after he started to cramp up.

WASTED SUB FOR KC: Sporting Kansas City was forced to use an early sub — the earliest in MLS Cup history — when Oriol Rosell sprained his ankle going in for a challenge on Morales in the eighth minute. He was replaced by Lawrence Olum.

The substitute brought back 2009 MLS Cup flashbacks for RSL fans. Morales injured his ankle in the first half against the L.A. Galaxy and was eventually replaced by Clint Mathis in the 22nd minute.