Real Salt Lake’s 2021 season came to an end on Saturday after losing 2-0 to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference final at Providence Park.
The Utah-based side enjoyed their Cinderella moment after becoming the unlikely stars of this year’s MLS playoffs. Real Salt Lake qualified to the playoffs after narrowly edging out the LA Galaxy with 49 regular-season points.
Fans expected the underdogs to crumble under the pressure of the Seattle Sounders before achieving one of the biggest upsets this season. RSL eliminated the Washington-based giants on penalties before going on to outscore Sporting Kansas City to reach the Western Conference final.
But the magic soon ran out as Portland’s Felipe Mora and Santiago Moreno led the Timbers to victory, ending RSL’s spectacular postseason run.
Despite the abrupt ending, interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni admitted he couldn’t be more proud.
He said: "I couldn't be more proud of being a part of this group. Nobody gave us a shot when the season started and no one gave us a shot when the playoffs started either. And so to have the mental toughness to overcome the perception of who we are is fantastic.
“You can always look at things from either perspective, but I couldn't be more proud of the effort and commitment of this group that I was able to lead."
Midfielder Damir Kreilach echoed his coach’s thoughts, admitting not many believed in the team prior to the 2021 season.
"This team is something special. It was 11 months ago when we started, earlier preseason than it should be, we were training on our own. We put so much hard work in to prove all the things we did this year. Not so many people believed in us and I can understand because they don't know what quality we have on our team,” Kreilach said.
“During this year we had ups and downs, which is a normal thing, but every time we came in front of the wall, we broke it. And because of that I would point, not just the team, I would point to the coaching staff, media staff, medical staff, our fans, our whole organization was on the same page this season.”
The Real Salt Lake midfielder is already looking forward to the 2022 MLS season, which is set to kick off on February 26.
“We learned so much from this experience from today as well, and next season we're going to prove as well what we proved this year."