LEHI, Utah — It was an emotional night on July 24, 2009, at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Leading up to Real Salt Lake’s match against FC Dallas, coach Jason Kreis had called out his players for poor performances. Six points out of playoff position with nearly two-thirds of the season gone, RSL were watching their year slip away.
Dallas were coming in with an even more desperate situation, trailing RSL by three points in the standings. Ex-Salt Laker Jeff Cunningham entered the match just one goal behind Kreis for No. 3 on the MLS all-time scoring list, but had been exiled to the bench. However, against New York two fixtures prior, he had shown his scoring touch with a brace.
The game started out with a bang for the visitors. Cunningham stripped his former team of the ball in the 13th minute and buried it for his 108th MLS career goal, tying him with Kreis, his former teammate and the coach that had shipped him out of Salt Lake two seasons prior.
It was an obviously emotional moment for the Jamaican-born forward, and he let everyone in the stadium know it. He took his team into the halftime break with a 2-0 lead.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Real Salt Lake outlasts FC Dallas 4-2
“The first half was pure frustration," recalled RSL defender Nat Borchers recently of the game. "We had come out of the gates really flat.”
Emotions were high for another striker in this match. RSL forward Yura Movsisyan had recently signed a pre-contract with Randers FC, and it seemed that there was quite a deal of turmoil going on behind the scenes as a result of it.
The Armenian came onto the pitch after the half and quickly paid dividends, as he began to put pressure on the Dallas back line, much like Cunningham had delivered in the first half.
In the 55th minute, Movsisyan beat Dallas ‘keeper Ray Burse to pull the game level, and equaled Cunningham’s exuberance afterwards.
But it was a penalty kick that set the stage for the most intense drama of the night. Cunningham stepped up to the spot with the potential of surpassing Kreis’ all-time mark, but goalkeeper Nick Rimando was able to get a hand on the ball and stop the attempt.
On the sideline, Kreis pumped his fist in the air, celebrating the missed attempt. Still emotional from what he felt was an errant call, RSL's coach immediately resumed his verbal assault of the fourth referee and earned a red card.
"That was a game-changing play from someone who is a leader on this team," Kreis said of Rimando’s save after the match. "But then I got ridiculous … and got myself thrown [out]."
It was unclear whether Kreis celebrated because he felt Rimando’s save was vindication for what he felt was an undeserved penalty, or relief that his MLS career goal mark hadn’t been surpassed on RSL’s home turf.
As it turned out, Real Salt Lake won the game by a 4-2 margin. The total damage on the night included seven yellow cards and two ejections, including Kreis’.
“For me, that was the most pivotal game of the year for us,” explained Borchers. “We had been playing quite poorly the previous couple of games. That was a statement game that we needed to come out and make, and we obviously did it.”