Chivas USA midfielder Erick Torres, front, heads the ball away from Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Real Salt Lake: Early red card dooms RSL in 1-0 loss at Chivas USA

First Published Jun 28 2014 10:48 pm
Last Updated Jun 29 2014 01:06 pm

Carson, Calif. • The second half of Real Salt Lake’s 2014 campaign had a sharp edge to it. Luke Mulholland’s cleats connected with the knee of Martin Rivero in the ninth minute, resulting in a red card and ensuring the struggling stretch that RSL entered the World Cup break on three weeks ago would only continue.

The 1-0 loss at Chivas USA Saturday furthered the club’s recent slide. Since a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids on May 17 — the last time the team earned three league points — RSL has gone 0-3-2 in league play.

"We put ourselves in that position being down a man," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. "I told them that we’ve lost three games this year, two of them we’ve given up red cards. It’s hard enough to win with 11, but with 10, especially early on, it’s really hard."

The sometimes hot, sometimes not beginning to the season is now a distant memory. RSL’s history-tying 12-game unbeaten streak to start 2014? It was good while it lasted, but as players and coaches reiterated throughout, the club was not playing up to its potential.

Undermanned with national-team call-ups and several injuries, the difficulties began to mount the last week of May and into early June. It continued into late June Saturday night on a balmy night in Southern California. Mulholland’s 9th-minute challenge on Rivero resulted in a straight red card, putting already under pressure RSL under it even more so.

"It was my first challenge, it’s not reckless or anything, just trying to intercept the ball," Mulholland said. "I was in disbelief when [the referee] sent me off, to be honest. It’s hard for a team to play down a man for 80 minutes, so the boys did well, they battled well, but the damage was done with my challenge and the red card, so disappointed in myself."

The World Cup break might’ve served the team well, but playing down a man for nearly the entire match didn’t help. Neither did a moment of brilliance from Chivas USA star Erick "Cubo" Torres and Tony Lochhead. Torres, the second leading goal scorer in Major League Scorer, put a screaming volley by RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the 35th minute. The right-footed shot came off a long, pinpoint cross from Lochhhead.

The goal by Torres was his 10th of this MLS calendar year, but more impressively made him the most decorated Mexican goal-scorer in the league’s history. The 21-year-old rising talent on loan from the team’s parent club Chivas de Guadalajara recorded his 17th career league goal, inching him by Mexican superstar and former Chicago Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

Despite being down a man for 81 minutes of play, RSL managed to possess the ball and wasn’t often caught on its heels as Chivas was content to sit back and absorb waves of RSL’s offensive pressure and counter-attack. Significant chances were hard to come by for the visitors. Counter-attacks nearly worked in the 64th minute when Mauro Rosales got on the end of a cross into the box and rifled a shot toward the near post, but the shot sailed. Ditto for the 69th minute when defender Chris Schuler had to use every bit of his 6-foot-4 center back frame to get his leg on a dangerous cross into box.

"We didn’t struggle to play and we didn’t have a tough performance," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "We dealt with a red card and we know that when we deal with those things, it’s tough."

In the 89th minute, Joao Plata was taken out by Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy on a race to the ball, but Kennedy poked the ball first as the RSL bench hopped up in frustration of no foul call.

As the conversation has continued since the trials began in late May, RSL must find a way to whip things back to its normalcy. The task, however, will be tall. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando remain with the U.S. men’s national team in Brazil as the Americans face Belgium in the Round of 16 Tuesday. Alvaro Saborio may be out until September or October. Ned Grabavoy is dealing with a lingering hip flexor injury and RSL had its second red card in as many matches.

Nevertheless, the turnaround is quicker than usual. RSL hosts upstart New England Revolution in its annual Fourth of July match Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

"On the whole, this is one of the best groups I’ve ever been around. We react really well to these kinds of adversities," Borchers said. "We’re going to have to man-up and get three points at home against New England."

Twitter: @chriskamrani

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