Jason Kreis was just minutes removed from a heartbreaking loss -- one that could be the end of his remarkable run as manager of Real Salt Lake. Yet sitting in front of the assembled press after his team's epic loss on penalty kicks to Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Cup final, Kreis spoke primarily of the pride he felt in his side.
"We drew. But since there aren't any draws and we had to go to PKs, it is what it is. The unfortunate situation about losing in any fashion is that the team is just going to remember that they lost," Kreis said. "I just want to make sure my group doesn't walk away forgetting everything that they did this year. Because it was a whole hell of a lot…It's just been an incredible, incredible, incredible year."
The game took its time to live up to its billing. Below-freezing conditions, combined with a field where large sections of the turf was frozen, took their toll in a first half that was rough-and-tumble, to put it lightly. Aurélien Collin, the Sporting Kansas City defender who would later be named the MVP of the game, was central to much of the shoving, tripping, and tackling that defined a sloppy opening 45 minutes.
"Seemed like there was a lot of taking down Collin throughout the match. Really undisciplined stuff," Kreis said. "I wasn't going to the referee and asking for anything tonight. Didn't seem like it was the night for it. Would have been wasted time and wasted effort and wasted breath."
Salt Lake thought they had their breakthrough when Alvaro Saborio finished off a gorgeous no-look chipped pass from Kyle Beckerman -- a play that would be at home on any all-time MLS Cup highlight reel. But Collin's response with a header off a corner kick in the 76th minute gave Kansas City new life. Both teams had chances to finish off the game. But neither could. It took 30 extra minutes and 20 penalty kicks to decide a champion. When Lovel Palmer's final kick smacked onto the crossbar, multiple Salt Lake players dropped to their knees on the frozen turf at Sporting Park. Then they slowly trudged inside, each putting an arm around Palmer's shoulders.
"The mood of the locker room? I'd advise you, if you have a choice, not to go in there," Kreis said, managing a faint laugh at gallows humor. "It's bad. It's real bad. As bad as it is. Not just to lose the game in the fashion that we did but it's also the last game of the season, and you know that there will inevitably be changes, you know that the team as it is won't be the same next year."
What is next for RSL? Little is known. Kreis has reportedly been made a top target by the expansion club New York City FC. Questions about his future came up repeatedly in the lead-in to the game, and they didn't stop after the final whistle.
Instead, Kreis chose to look back on the pressure-packed two-week break that preceded his team's heartbreaking loss. "It's interesting that the last couple weeks have been so hectic, with all the details to consider and the preparation for the match and families coming to the cup, and hotel rooms and tickets and everything else…but all of that was pretty easy," he said. "What happens over the next couple days is real hard."