Down two men and under tough conditions in San Jose on Saturday night, Real Salt Lake showed no quit.
It took a pair of stoppage-time goals by the Earthquakes to erase RSL's valiant effort, but in the end, Jason Kreis' men eventually surrendered the Western Conference lead to the Earthquakes courtesy of a 3-1 loss.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Kreis said after the match. “We were very, very close to pulling off a heroic result."
The game started off well for the Claret-and-Cobalt, who seemed to gain some rhythm in the opening minutes. However, that all changed in the 29th minute, when forward Fabián Espíndola went to the turf studs up with both feet while challenging San Jose’s Sam Cronin, prompting the referee to issue a straight red card.
Down a man and with momentum favoring San Jose, RSL could do nothing but weather the storm, and they finally cracked in first-half stoppage time as San Jose's Khari Stephenson scored on a header.
It was at the half that the visitors decided that they wouldn’t go down without a fight despite the deficit both on the scoreboard and in personnel.
“[You] challenge the guys a little bit at halftime and get them to look at that situation as positively as possible and try to get them to look at it as a challenge to their pride, and see how they reacted,” said Kreis. “And they reacted fantastically well.”
That reaction was exemplified by their captain, midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who pushed up much higher than typical and appeared to try to will his squad back to level ground. It was fitting that he was the one who put levelled the score in the 53rd minute with a classy finish after sidestepping a couple of defenders. His equalizer gave RSL hope, and they fought on.
“We fought back from an extremely difficult circumstance – a man down, a goal down,” Kreis said. “You go two men down and fight, fight, fight and come really close [to getting a result], so let’s try to look at the positives.”
Even after the second red card – this one a more controversial one to Jámison Olave in the 69th minute for tangling up with Stephen Lenhart just outside of the penalty area – RSL still fought on. In fact, they were just minutes away from walking out of Buck Shaw Stadium with a point for their efforts before Simon Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski exploited RSL’s two-man disadvantage in the 92nd and 93rd minutes, respectively.
Despite the disappointing result, Kreis could only commend his team for an admirable effort.
“I’m extremely proud of the amount of work that went in tonight,” he said, as he and his men now turn their attention to a midweek encounter against FC Dallas.