SANDY, Utah — As Real Salt Lake prepared for a trip to Chicago on Saturday to face the Fire, the team was faced with an unfortunate reminder of how the season has been going.
Tuesday's reserve match saw RSL take the lead in the first half, only give up a second-half goal and end up in a 1-1 tie with Chivas USA.
It's familiar territory for the first team, which has tied five of eight games this season. In three of those games, RSL conceded a goal in the 90th minute or later. In all five games, RSL had the lead in the second half.
It was frustrating for both the players and the fans, as evidenced by a disappointed locker room after RSL gave up two late goals to draw Vancouver 2-2 on Saturday night.\
“We've had very good starts to the games,” head coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “I think we really need to — myself as well as the team — learn how to close out teams. And that starts with me. With my decisions that I make. And also with the information that I'm giving them.”
Cassar, who has yet to lose a game since he took over this season as RSL's head coach, came under some criticism for his substitutions against Vancouver — but that would seem to be more a sign of fan frustration than anything else. And his only response to that criticism has been to repeat that, like his team, he has to do better.
“We had a talk before the [reserve game on Tuesday] and I said, 'Listen, we all make mistakes,'” Cassar said. “'There's mistakes made off the field, on field. But as long as we're together, we're going to pull through.'
“I said, 'Listen, we've been leading in every game. That's pretty positive “
Remarkably, Salt Lake (3-0-5) have trailed for only five minutes all season. And that came back on March 15 at San Jose.
That was another match that saw RSL take a two-goal lead into halftime. But the Claret-and-Cobalt gave up 75th- and 95th-minute goals and gave away two points.
“Now it's learning how to close out — have that killer mentality,” Cassar said. “We'll get better at it.”
Specifics on how to do that are in short supply, however. Real Salt Lake have shown a propensity for giving the ball away in dangerous situations, which is why third-place RSL is looking up at Seattle and Dallas in the Western Conference standings instead of looking down at them from first place.
“We need to be better with the ball,” veteran RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy told reporters. “That's the first and foremost important thing. And better with the ball in dangerous parts of the field for us. Our defensive third, our middle third — we can't lose easy passes and we seem to have done that in those games. Saturday night stands out above the rest, probably. And then being mature.
“It's a collective group effort. There's a lot of things that we can work on. It's not just one thing in particular.”