Skip to content

Bad breaks? Bad luck? Neither defined Real Salt Lake’s MLS Cup

Dec 8, 2013, 9:44 PM EDT

lovel_palmer_jimmy_nielsen Reuters

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The general mood around Real Salt Lake’s locker room after Saturday’s MLS Cup final was one that rued their missed chances. In addition to losing the title game in a 10-round penalty kick shootout, the team hit the woodwork three times in the match’s first 73 minutes. On a number of occasions, the Western Conference champions were within inches of avoiding extra time, even if their hosts seemed to generate more good chances over the match’s 120 minutes.

[MORE: Sporting Kansas City crowned 2013 MLS champions after 10 rounds of penalty kicks]

No doubt, had Robbie Findley or Javier Morales finished into their open nets in the 29th and 73rd minutes, Real Salt Lake could have been celebrating come minute 91, but to label those bad breaks is a little misleading. Perhaps this a bit pedantic, but there is a difference between bad luck and not finishing your chances, and when you miss an empty net, it’s the latter. Hitting the post isn’t bad luck. It’s a missed shot.

Likewise, attributing a shootout loss to bad luck is also slightly skewed. Just because the probability of winning a shootout might fall close to 50 percent doesn’t mean the “coin flip” analogy is a good one. When you toss a true coin in the air, you have no real control if it lands on heads or tails. Players do have some control over whether they make their penalty kicks, and while the nature of a shootout means we probably won’t get enough kicks to determine if one team is truly better than the other, the process almost always tells us which team took their five (or, in this case, 10) kicks better.

On Saturday, Sporting performed better in the shootout, and it wasn’t just luck. Álvaro Saborío and Lovel Palmer’s misses represented a lack of execution, while Jimmy Nielsen’s saves on Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez  were the combination of research, intuition, luck, and execution.

There were a couple of areas where factors beyond RSL’s control may have cost them. The weather (and its resulting influence on the surface) was a potential advantage for Sporting Kansas City, whose familiarity with the environment and turf appeared to help early. But in the second half, the conditions worked in Real Salt Lake’s favor, with Jimmy Nielsen unable to move effectively in a frozen south penalty box. The conditions could have differentiated the teams, but that’s not how it worked out.

Then there was the controversial second half non-call on Aurélien Collin, who was already carrying a yellow card. His takedown of Robbie Findley just before his game-tying goal would likely have drawn a caution under other circumstances; namely, if Collin wasn’t already in danger of being sent off. If you feel a yellow is a yellow regardless of the situation, Hilario Grajeda should have sent the Sporting defender off. Unfortunately (like it or not), you’ll have trouble finding an official who has such an unsympathetic implementation of the rules. Right or wrong, Collin stays on in that situation in almost any other postseason game.

So it’s unclear where Real Salt Lake suffered any bad luck. And although there were a couple of instances that could be described as bad breaks, the better terminology is missed opportunity. Real Salt Lake’s undoing on Saturday was their failure to make the most of their chances, not the coins flipping in Sporting’s favor.

Sporting didn’t win by much, but they did win in a way that transcended fortune or luck. They deserve the respect of having their performance acknowledged.

Latest Posts
  1. Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham

    Apr 18, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Spurs and Fulham set for derby scrap, with both team desperate for three points:

  2. Wayne Rooney hands Manchester United boost, will return vs. old club Everton

    Apr 18, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT

    Two goals from Wayne Rooney in the first half helped United to a 4-1 win over Aston Villa. AP

    Rooney and Fellaini fit to face their old team, as United aim to scupper Everton’s top four:

  3. MLS Insider: Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman – Pair of Aces

    Apr 18, 2014, 7:51 AM EDT

    Art by J McQuade Art by J McQuade

    Beckerman and Bradley; the perfect midfield combination for the USMNT?

  4. Week 7 Preview: Fire look for first win vs. Revs; Dallas gets its crack at Toronto

    Apr 17, 2014, 11:33 PM EDT

    jhon_kennedy_hurtado_felipe AP

    MLS’s nine-match Saturday kicks off Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET, with Chicago hosting New England on NBCSN.

  5. How stacked can the West get? In three years, MLS’s conferences will be much more uneven

    Apr 17, 2014, 9:03 PM EDT

    Houston Dynamo v Sporting Kansas City - Eastern Conference Semifinals Getty Images

    Think MLS’s conferences are unbalanced now? Let me offer you a glimpse at 2017.

  6. Report: Aston Villa ownership will change hands if club stays up

    Apr 17, 2014, 7:44 PM EDT

    Aston_Villa_Logo_851684732

    An American consortium has a deal to buy the club from Randy Lerner, if it can avoid relegation.

  7. ‘Large-scale back tattoo’ has sidelined John Brooks

    Apr 17, 2014, 6:38 PM EDT

    JABrooks-Getty Getty Images

    The 21-year-old U.S. international appears to have underestimated the impact of an in-season tattoo.

  8. Tim Howard inks Everton extension, signs through 2017-18 season

    Apr 17, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT

    everton_tim_howard

    U.S. number one signs extension that will take him through the next World Cup cycle.

  9. Arsenal welcome back Mesut Özil, predict German will be “Player of the Season” next year

    Apr 17, 2014, 5:54 PM EDT

    Arsenal's Ozil reacts during their Champions League soccer match against Napoli at the Emirates stadium in London

    Gunners playmaker back fit, as Arsene Wenger expects big things from the German next season:

  10. Looking at the run-in for La Liga’s title contenders

    Apr 17, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT

    Diego Costa AP

    Real Madrid has the easiest path, with the next two weekends potentially knocking the holders out of contention.

  11. Daniel Sturridge out injured for Liverpool, as Reds hold their breath

    Apr 17, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT

    Danny Sturridge is the Premier League Player of the Month for February for his performances for Liverpool. Getty Images

    England international a doubt after hamstring injury, why would Liverpool risk him?

  12. Winless Watch: Which MLS team’s most likely to break through this weekend?

    Apr 17, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT

    Sporting Kansas City v Chicago Fire Getty Images

    Which MLS teams can join New York in leaving the ranks of the winless?

  13. Premier League Power Rankings: Liverpool or Chelsea for the title? – Week 34

    Apr 17, 2014, 4:24 PM EDT

    Philippe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard AP

    Unstoppable Reds continue to roll, but where did the contenders shake out in our latest rankings?

  14. Neymar, Jordi Alba to miss the rest of Barcelona’s season

    Apr 17, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT

    neymar AP

    Both players should be back by the time their national teams start preparations for this summer’s World Cup.

  15. Wild Greek Cup match delayed for flares, sees three red cards

    Apr 17, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT

    BenchFlare AP

    Thousands of flares engulfed Greece’s Toumba Stadium as a bench was lit on fire and covered in anchovies. And that was all before the match…

  16. Could Guardiola leave Bayern for a Barca return? Cruyff wants Pep back

    Apr 17, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT

    Guardiola AP

    With Guardiola not taking kindly to criticism from the front office, could the former Barcelona boss return to the Camp Nou?

  17. Manchester: A city not united, as Blue and Red converge

    Apr 17, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT

    Can Manuel Pellegrini bring Premier League success to the Etihad? Reuters

    For decades Manchester United have been the top dogs in Manchester, now that’s changing. PST’s Editor and Lead Writer went behind the scenes to see what Mancunians are all about:

  18. PST Extra: Race for the Premier League title

    Apr 17, 2014, 12:31 PM EDT

    Rodgers Getty Images

    Can Brendan Rodgers and company make it through the rest of their schedule unscathed to the prize at the end? Chelsea seem like the biggest hurdle. Our very own Joe Prince-Wright and Mike Prindiville discuss.

Featured video

PST Extra: Race for the PL title