SANDY, Utah – In a 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night, Real Salt Lake experienced the cruelest of ironies that the sport has to offer: Just when things appear to be coming around in your favor, one moment can change everything.
RSL had struggled over the last several matches – including back-to-back scoreless draws against Houston and Dallas – and their goal well had completely dried up. In fact, in those two matches, they managed just three shots on goal combined.
But in the early portion of the second stanza against the Sounders, it appeared that RSL were poised to turn things around.
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They spent most of their time in Seattle’s penalty area in the first 13 minutes of the second half, seeing several scramble situations that could have yielded a goal. And it took the crossbar denying a Jámison Olave header and a Kasey Keller fingertip save on Fabián Espíndola to keep RSL from reversing their fortunes.
But then disaster struck in the 58th minute. Olave was shown a straight red card for bringing down Mike Fucito at the edge of the area with a tackle from behind.
“No doubt about it decisions like that can change games and have impact on games and decide games,” said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. “And so that was the critical moment in the match.”
When Olave first broke into the league, he had a penchant for indiscipline – particularly red cards – earning three ejections in the 2009 season alone.
His coach seemed willing to dismiss this as a one-off and felt that the decision by the referee could have gone in another direction.
“I think Olave has been doing a much-improved job in the disciplinary column … for the past year-and-a-half now," said Kreis. "Jámison slipped on that play and he knows that the guy is in behind him, so I think you do have to make some attempt to stop that play. We’ve had those exact same decisions be a yellow card against us.”
After that critical moment, RSL conceded two goals to the Sounders after having given just two goals in eight prior MLS matches.
They did manage to finally break their own scoring drought in the 88th minute with a goal from substitute Nelson Gonzalez. The midfielder broke a stretch of 271 minutes without a goal for RSL.
Despite the defeat – and the screeching halt to RSL’s 29-game unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto – Kreis felt that he saw something that had been missing in his squad over the past several matches.
“I was real pleased with the response that we got from halftime into the second half,” he said. “I was real pleased with the way we fought and our aggressive mindset in the second half, even the way we continued to fight when we were down a man and down two goals.
“All in all, it’s one of those times as a coach that I’m happy with the fight and the spirit, but very disappointed with the result.”
Midfielder Will Johnson had a harder time accepting the moral victory.
“It is what it is when you lose the game,” he said. “You can spin it whatever way you want, but you still lost the game.
“We’re just trying to get things going around here again. We’re just trying to find a way to fill [Javier Morales’] shoes and get back to playing good attacking soccer.”