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Salt Lake plagued by Kreis' blurred vision
by Ridge Mahoney, July 7th, 2008 11:45AM

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The pieces are in place for Salt Lake City to join the growing cast of MLS cities offering fans a decent product in facilities that range from adequate to superb.

On the field, there's a solid MLS keeper, decent back line, good midfield, and competent forward corps. Off the field, a strong management team has rankled local governmental officials now and again during a lurching stadium process, but that project is on track, and meanwhile in the stands, one of the league's more devoted followings endures pinballesque performances that nonetheless often resemble what a real game looks like.

In the press box, the assembled observers crank out coverage that can be superfluous as well as superficial, yet often enough in the past have come forth liberal blisterings of operator-investor Dave Checketts, a master of both accomplishment and heavy-handed politicking, and long stretches of dreary play.

The dreary days are gone. Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Robbie Findley and Kenny Deuchar give RSL a strong spine. The new stadium won't be completely ready by early October, but is scheduled to host its first game nonetheless.

Just one vital element, aside from a playoff debut, is missing: More professionalism from the head coach, who as a player certainly oozed determination and fire and drew tremendous respect. For a guy who very seldom griped as a player, Coach Jason Kreis is among the league leaders in whining off-tune.

"Every single week we play here, I feel like we're playing away," Kreis said after tying two-time defending champion Houston 0-0 Thursday night. "Every 50/50 call goes against us."

Wow. Think of the probabilities of that happening!

By his own admission, Kreis is learning the job not just on the fly, but in the cockpit while technicians and mechanics fine-tune the instruments. The bizzare bounces, exasperating officiating decisions, and flat-out injustice of MLS and every other soccer competition can frazzle the strongest soul, and league coaches are just as adept as their counterparts in other lands at misrepresenting, twisting, and distorting facts to suit their severely warped perspectives.

But complaining about a few seconds of un-added added time after blowing a half-dozen good scoring chances in a 0-0 tie with Houston Saturday night, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where RSL has yet to lose but has won only four of nine games, doesn't wash. Deuchar and Findley squandered a few precious ones, and Beckerman first misplayed a point-blank feed from Deuchar, and then rolled a shot past keeper Joe Cannon but struck is so softly defender Bobby Boswell easily hacked it clear.

Kreis also railed at referee Mark Geiger - of course - for not whistling a penalty kick during a late goalmouth flurry and sending off defender Chris Wingert, who during a stoppage-time scuffle with Corey Ashe appeared to shove Houston midfielder Dwayne DeRosario in the throat or the face and was sent off for violent conduct.

What's really burning Kreis and his players is their failure the past few weeks to take over first place in the very mediocre yet hotly contested Western Conference. They will get another chance this week trailing co-leaders Los Angeles and Chivas USA (both 6-6-3, 21 points). If the HDC rivals tie and RSL (5-6-5, 20 points) beats Columbus at home, it can attain heights not quite as impressive yet certainly just as meaningful as the Wasatch Mountains that look down on Rice-Eccles, in first place for the first time. Ever.

RSL might take note of what one of its conference rivals did two nights after it tied the defending champion, 0-0. Locked in a frustrating goalless tie with San Jose Saturday night, Chivas USA snagged three points when Ante Razov curled a free kick into the top corner. Rather than devolving into a few moments of madness, Chivas USA replied to frustration with a burst of brilliance.

Houston's tie was its eighth in 16 games yet it just missed scoring a late winner when Brian Ching just failed to get his head on a cross. Of its 10 shots, five came in the final 10 minutes. The Dynamo kept pushing to score a winning goal, RSL got into a pushing contest.

Kreis is competitive, passionate and demanding. He and general manager Garth Lagerwey have put together a pretty good group of players, but they're starting to parrot the "woe-is-us" prattling. "This year, in all our ties we've been the better team," Beckerman said. "We just haven't been able to get that final touch."

In all team sports, mediocre teams are mediocre because they can't win close games, and in soccer, chances don't decide game. Goals do. It's harsh, it's unfair, and sometimes painfully cruel, but that's how it works.

Don't moan about being the better team. Prove it.


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