Major League Soccer: In end, RSL all tied up
Real Salt Lake was one team in the first half and another in the second against the San Jose Earthquakes. RSL put in its best effort of the year, then sat back and allowed a late goal to spoil its bid for a second consecutive victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night.
The teams played to a 2-2 tie in front of an announced crowd of 16,254.
"Absolutely, there's no question we're going to be disappointed with that," forward Jason Kreis said. "To have played such good soccer in the first half and then to let ourselves down like we did in the second half is obviously not what we're looking to do."
Real Salt Lake led for the better part of the game, thanks to a pair of goals from Kreis. He scored one off a penalty kick in the 21st minute, to even the score at 1-1. Kreis celebrated his second, not 15 minutes later, with a pair of back flips.
"The first half was great,'' RSL coach John Ellinger said.
"I feel very positive about how we played in the first half."
Salt Lake knew what was coming in the second. Over the break, the team talked about San Jose coming back strong in the second, and about maintaining its level of play.
But then, it didn't.
The Earthquakes' Alejandro Moreno sent a ball to the far post, and out of the reach of goalkeeper D.J. Countess, for the equalizer. San Jose outshot Real Salt Lake 8-2 in the second half after the teams were nearly equal in the first.
"The last 45 minutes of the game, we were too passive,'' defender Rusty Pierce said.
Things went from bad to worse for Real Salt Lake, as Clint Mathis picked up a yellow in the game's closing minutes after he came to Pierce's aid.
It seemed the defender, on the ground after an Earthquakes tackle, was spit on by an Earthquakes player in the 89th minute. After the game, Pierce said the player was accusing him of faking the fall.
"One of my teammates went to have a word with him," Pierce said. "There was nothing dirty about what he did. Clint got a yellow and he wasn't taunting."
Despite the second-half collapse, the tie had its bright spots. Real Salt Lake proved to the rest of the league that it's capable of finding the back of the net - it was the team's first multi-goal game of the year. And it didn't lose much in the Western Conference standings - with the Colorado Rapids' loss to the MetroStars on Saturday, RSL stayed in fourth place.
"It's all about peaking in this league," Countess said. "If we can hang in there, and pick up a playoff spot, who knows what will happen."
But it also left the door open for a late goal, something that's been more of a San Jose specialty of late. All three of the Earthquakes losses have come because they've allowed a late goal.
San Jose was pleased that, for once, it wasn't them.
"We're just happy we were able to come back and tie the game up," Moreno said.
Forward Brian Ching scored the Earthquakes' first goal 11 minutes into the game. He pushed a cross from teammate Brad Davis past Countess, just minutes after another of his shots had hit the post.
Ching is one of the league's leading scorers, averaging a goal a game.
Real Salt Lake countered the Earthquakes' early goal with a play that looked a lot like the one the team used for the game-winner here two weeks ago.
Mathis played a free kick to the far post, where Brian Dunseth crashed the net. This time, though, instead of a diving header Dunseth himself took a dive and was fouled by defender Eddie Robinson. RSL was awarded a penalty kick in the 21st minute.
Kreis converted the free kick from 12 yards out - considered a near-freebie by some.
His second was off an expert pass from Mathis, who had streaked down the right side and laid the ball off to Kreis.
And then, in the second, they hunkered down. Unfortunately.
"We said we weren't going to sit back," Pierce said. "But then we did. We're a good enough team to win that game."
IN SHORT - The tie moved Salt Lake into fourth place - out of six - in the Western Conference.
KEY STAT - Jason Kreis scored two goals for Real Salt Lake, both in the first half. It was the first multi-goal game for Real.
KEY MOMENT - Kreis' goals were bookended by a pair of San Jose scores, by Brian Ching and Alejandro Moreno. Ching is averaging a goal a game for the Earthquakes.