Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar has been your typical soldier in the claret and cobalt army since he took over for Jason Kreis earlier this year, living the good life as a social worker/coach/guide administering his charges with clinical practices bordering on reverse psychology and prescribing borderline lies when asked how his team is playing.
If you didn’t know any better, you would think Cassar still had his head stuck in the clouds above the peaks of the Wasatch that overlook Rio Tinto Stadium, as he talks to reporters like Howdy Doody, giving you the aw-shucks line every time his team makes a mistake.
But that all changed on Saturday, June 14 after his Real Salt Lake charges--injury hobbled as they were--got knocked around by the Atlanta Silverbacks of minor-league NASL in the third round of the US Open Cup by the razor’s edge score of 2-1. What probably got Cassar the most was that RSL had this game won from the outset, scoring on a Robbie Findley tap-in--if only after Atlanta goalkeeper Derby Carrillo whiffed on the ball in the 10th minute.
Nothing made Cassar excited about this game, not the fact that he got to smell the grass and put on a three-piece suit instead of a training suit--certainly not the way his team played. Even the club's hyperbole-filled PR person made a brief appearance as a journalist steeped in objectivity, choosing to poke holes in the team's performance on Saturday, making you wonder if there's more dirt below the surface.
Not only could RSL not put Atlanta and Carrillo, its gambling joke of a goalkeeper from El Salvador away, the claret and cobalt reverted to the age-old club tradition of giving away a goal at the death, a practice that Kreis finally had under control after years of similar late-game defeats. But this catastrophe on a steamy night in Hotlanta was much too much for Cassar, who blew his normally ebullient top at the post-game press conference.
Gone were the halcyon days of giving verbal back-pats and head-pats for mistakes his team made, telling the grisly reporters that it would all come together and that it would all turn out in the end. In its place came scathing remarks, the likes of which haven’t been heard for quite some time--but served as a refreshing reminder that the claret and cobalt probably ought to snap back into reality, start playing like they did a few games ago and wake up before it’s too late and all of the chances at lifting trophies are just memories of days gone by.
That return to the US Open Cup final to avenge a heartbreaking loss in 2013 is also a memory, replaced by head scratching and going back to the drawing board, as players and staff now must devise ways to get this team back to normal.
Now it’s time for a World Cup 2014 break, two weeks on which the afflicted on RSL can now contemplate their plans going forward and solve issues that have been plaguing the team for weeks. Is it time for RSL to make some roster changes? Is it time for some soul-searching on the parts of players and staff? Only Cassar knows as much--but he did leave a few clues in his comments.
World Cup break
“I think it’s going to be extremely beneficial. We can go let this soak in. Everybody can just sit and stew on our break and realize the opportunity that we just blew. It also gives a chance for some of the players to get back and – let’s be fair – when you’re missing eight starters from this game, it’s not easy. This game was never going to be easy and we made it really hard on ourselves.”
“We started great and then we went away from what we were doing and they gained control of the game. They played with more energy, more passion, like they were fighting for their jobs.”
“I don’t think anybody played well tonight. I don’t think anybody played well at all. I got outcoached, we got outplayed and there’s no positives at all from this game.”
Losing to Atlanta
“Extremely disappointing. Last year we had every game at home which is a lot easier on the guys, but that’s just an excuse. We didn’t play good enough to win tonight. We’re walking away and I can say that we didn’t deserve to win this game. Just extremely disappointed that we’re not able to close out games. We’re not recognizing dangers; we’re getting exposed. It was just a bad performance.”
“Extremely disappointing. To have the lead again and then not play good soccer – the guys couldn’t finish the game. It’s just really, really disappointing.”