SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake might just be the most frustrated undefeated team in soccer right now.
Sure, they have yet to lose a match in the 2014 regular season, but they've tied more than they've won and stand at 3-0-5. And some of those ties — including Saturday's 2-2 deadlock with Vancouver — feel like anything but wins.
“This one definitely feels like a loss,” RSL defender Chris Wingert told reporters. “We feel like we dropped two tonight, so that's a bit of a bummer. We need to get better at finishing games off.”
That would be an understatement. Not only does Salt Lake have five ties this season, three of those have come when the Claret-and-Cobalt have blown late leads.
Against San Jose on March 15, RSL was up 3-1 at halftime and gave up goals in the 77th and 94th minutes to drop two points. On April 12 in Philadelphia, RSL had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 only to give up a 90th-minute goal and go home with another tie.
And against Vancouver, RSL not only jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on a second-minute goal by Joao Plata and a ninth-minute goal by Alvaro Saborio, but Salt Lake dominated the game. The Whitecaps couldn't do anything for nearly the entire match, and RSL had chance after chance to extend its lead.
“In the first half, that was close to as good as we can play,” Wingert said. “The energy was awesome. The guys were working really hard for each other. In the second half, unfortunately, we let them put us on our heels a little bit.”
Even though the Whitecaps didn't have a whole lot of dangerous chances for the first 85 minutes of the game, Nicolas Mezquida brought Vancouver within one on an 86th-minute goal — and replays indicated was offside — and then Sebastian Fernandez brought the visitors even with a 35-yard rocket deep into stoppage time.
As the Whitecaps celebrated on the sidelines, the Claret-and-Cobalt dejectedly walked off the field.
“Yeah, I think any tie at home is like a loss,” RSL defender Nat Borchers told reporters. “Especially when we have that kind of energy and domination in the first half, we expect that we're going to get maybe two or three more goals after that. And we just couldn't muster it.
“We just kept them in the game and the next thing you know they get that goal at the last minute. We just didn't close the game out right.
“It's a cruel game,” Borchers added, pointing out that RSL nearly scored a third goal shortly before Vancouver scored its second to tie it. “And then it's 3-1 and we go home a little bit happier. But that's the cruel bounces of the game.”
So what does RSL do about their seeming propensity to give up points late in games?
“I think it starts with video and talking about it and showing the players what could have been done, what choice could have possibly been made,” RSL Coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “Obviously, the staff's got to look at themselves, I've got to look at what I could have done better.”
But ahead of next Saturday's game in Chicago, Cassar plans to “just keep stressing it and putting them in situations in practice where they have to defend a lead.”