for this game

RSL wins on PKs to reach MLS Cup final

Nov 15, 2009 - 4:21 PM By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO STATS Writer

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (STATS) - Real Salt Lake's playoff history may be brief, but it's known for dramatics.

Gaining its first berth in the MLS Cup final wasn't any different, beating the Chicago Fire 5-4 on penalty kicks after 120 scoreless minutes in the Eastern Conference final Saturday night.

Salt Lake reached the playoffs by beating Colorado 3-0 on the final day of the regular season, making it the second straight year a season-ending result against the Rapids clinched a playoff spot.

In both cases, RSL carried that momentum into the conference final. Last year, the club fell 1-0 to New York despite a 24-11 advantage in shots.

This time, Ned Grabavoy - a Chicago-area native and substitute in the final minute of overtime - scored the winning penalty kick in the seventh round as his shot went off the fingertips of Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch.

"Last year was a little bit of a laugher because we were just so much better than New York and didn't reach the final," coach Jason Kreis said. "(This is) really a special night and a special moment for this club and for everybody involved."

Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando made three saves in the shootout - all to his left - after stopping six shots through overtime.

RSL, which joined the league in 2005, will meet Los Angeles in the MLS Cup final on Nov. 22 at Qwest Field in Seattle. The Galaxy reached the title game with a 2-0 overtime win against Houston on Friday.

The Fire have lost three consecutive conference finals, and fell for the second time on penalties this season. They lost the SuperLiga final 4-3 via the tiebreaker to Tigres of Mexico on June 27.

"It's an empty feeling in your stomach right now," Chicago coach Denis Hamlett said. "I think all season we worked hard and stuck together to get to this point and to lose the way we lost tonight; sometimes soccer is a cruel sport."

The game was nearly decided in the final seconds of regulation as forward Robbie Findley's shot from the top of the box got through a crowd in front of the net, but was cleared off the line by John Thorrington.

Fire forward Brian McBride saw his header hit the crossbar in the 27th minute, and midfielder Marco Pappa had a shot in the 67th minute saved by a diving Rimando.

This was the first conference final to reach penalties since Rimando stopped two to help D.C. defeat New England in 2004.

"I can't give all my secrets away, but it's something I feel comfortable with," he said. "Even these guys, before we went out for the second half (my teammates) were talking 'listen if we go down to penalty kicks, we've got one of the best ones in the league.'"

While reaching the MLS Cup final is a first for RSL, it's also a first for Kreis, who played 12 seasons with Dallas and Salt Lake before unexpectedly retiring to become coach in 2007.

"I feel awesome," said Kreis, who was the first player selected by RSL in the 2005 expansion draft and still ranks fourth in MLS history with 108 goals. "I feel fantastic. I feel rewarded for all the hard work that's been put in. To finally get here is awesome."

RSL owner David Checketts stood by the inexperienced Kreis.

"Even as a player, I had picked him out as someday the coach of our franchise," Checketts said. "I just knew that a guy that size to lead MLS in scoring had something very special. What he had special, it turns out, is how much he cares about our franchise, and he's done some job this year."