RSL at Chivas USA
Saturday, 8 p.m. It was a wonder goalkeeper D.J. Countess didn't up and kiss the goalposts after his team played San Jose to a 2-2 tie on Saturday night.
Real Salt Lake's keeper was saved by the posts twice, once on a Brian Ching breakaway just five minutes into the game, and again when he deflected a point-blank shot straight up into the crossbar.
"A goalkeeper will always tell you the posts are good goalkeepers,'' coach John Ellinger said.
But he also had a defensive line - absent Eddie Pope - to thank for doing a serviceable job against one of the highest-scoring teams in Major League Soccer.
Pope, the team's best defender, was forced to sit after receiving a red card in a 3-0 loss to FC Dallas a week ago. Ellinger started Nelson Akwari and Matt Behncke in his place. Ellinger also sat Marlon Rojas to make room for the pair of defenders.
Behncke patrolled the far back with Brian Dunseth, and Akwari was outside on the wing.
"They both played very well,'' Ellinger said. "Obviously, missing Eddie is crucial, and late in the game is when you want him in there."
Real Salt Lake was outshot 19-9 overall, 8-2 in the second.
Akwari and Behncke couldn't be blamed for the shell RSL seemed to crawl inside in the second half. Nor were they to blame for the late goal the team allowed to earn a tie instead of the win, but Ellinger still thinks there is room for improvement in the defensive third.
"We still need to clean up back there,'' Ellinger said.
The expansion team was pleased with its first 45 minutes of play but not the second, when RSL was more defensive-minded than it would've liked.
"Anytime you just sit back against any team, it's never a good thing,'' said defender Rusty Pierce.
RSL has allowed eight goals through four games. Only CD Chivas and San Jose have given up more. Their goals for/against margin is minus-4. All of which points to the fact that they're still in expansion mode and searching for their identity.
After Saturday's game, it seems to be that they're hot and cold.
"That was the best 45 minutes of soccer we've ever played,'' forward Jason Kreis said.
But it was followed by the lackluster second half. The collapse in Dallas last weekend came on the heels of the high-energy home opener two weeks ago.
Still, Countess offered a measure of perspective on a season that's just barely begun, with six months to play.
"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."
Real Salt Lake moved into sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference with the tie. Colorado, tied for fourth before the game, dropped into fifth after a loss to the MetroStars over the weekend.
Up next for RSL is Chivas, the league's other expansion team, in Los Angeles on Saturday. Chivas, winless in its first five games, is in last place in the Western Conference.
l Real Salt Lake moved into sole possesion of fourth place - out of six teams - in the Western Conference with the 2-2 tie Saturday
l RSL was outshot 8-2 in the second half, when it allowed San Jose a late goal that turned a win into a tie
l Up next for RSL is the fellow expansion team CD Chivas, in Los Angeles on Saturday