To say things simply fell apart for Real Salt Lake in their 5-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes would be a vast understatement.
For starters, going down a goal as early as the 19th minute on the first of Chris Wondolowski's three goals on the night certainly wasn't the start they were looking for.
"It was a pretty lackluster beginning for us. The first half wasn't good for sure," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "At halftime down 1-0 I'm thinking that we're still in it with a chance."
Real could have found a way to come back, but that all changed in a 57th minute incident that turned the game from a tight, top-of-the-table clash into a blowout loss.
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman lost his cool after seeing teammate Javier Morales – who is among the league leaders in fouls suffered – hacked to the ground by Sam Cronin. Beckerman felt enough was enough and retaliated by shoving Cronin. Both teams had several players jump into an ensuing melee which also saw referee Allen Chapman caught up with Beckerman in the mdidle. The result of the fracas was a straight-red for Beckerman, and yellow cards for RSL's Fabian Espindola and San Jose's Justin Morrow.
"Everything falls apart with the ruckus," said Kreis. "Quite frankly, I'm not exactly sure why the referee decided to throw our player out and none of their players out. That's a question for him. I wish I could ask him right now.
"I thought Javier got fouled, and Cronin is trying to play the ball. I think Kyle took offense to the fact Cronin decided not to kick the ball out. He went in on him late, trying to make a statement, but I didn't think it was an overly dangerous tackle. Certainly one that didn't seem to be ejectionable."
During RSL's win over Portland last weekend, a similar incident occurred. Morales was at the center of the controversy then, also because of the fouls he suffered. For RSL to have a successful run at an MLS Cup, a healthy Morales is likely key, and given the way he's been treated by other teams, there is always the lingering worry that won't be the case.
Naturally, Beckerman was protective of Morales, but at what cost? Playing a man down, Real gave up a goal only six minutes later to Alan Gordon. Wondolowski scored again in the 72nd and 80th minute, and Simon Dawkins had one in the 79th to cap one of the most embarrassing losses in team history.
"We need to be more disciplined," said Kreis. "And when I say more disciplined, I'm not just talking about how we're reacting to referees' decisions. I'm talking about how the way we played the game tonight… Even a man down, we shouldn't be allowing four more goals."