Sandy • Victory was all but assured Saturday night for Real Salt Lake, leading by a goal with barely five minutes left at its fortress of a home, against a team that hadn't extracted so much as a point from Utah since the first time it played here nearly six years ago.
But just like that, Charlie Davies happened.
Racing downfield on a counterattack, the D.C. United striker who famously recovered from a horrifying car crash either tripped or simply dove over a tackle by RSL's Chris Wingert in the penalty box, earning a controversial penalty kick that he ultimately converted in the 85th minute for a 1-1 draw in front of 16,841 mostly disappointed fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"He just kicked it away and jumped over," Wingert said, shaking his head. "It's almost laughable."
That was the overwhelming sentiment in the RSL locker room, where players could scarcely believe that referee Terry Vaughn had from their perspective allowed Davies to trick him and produce his fourth penalty-kick goal of the season.
"You'd think they'd learn, or watch games," midfielder Andy Williams said. "I guess they don't watch games."
Coach Jason Kreis offered a "no comment" when asked about the penalty call, which negated a penalty kick by Fabian Espindola that followed a handball by United's Clyde Simms in the 38th minute and put RSL in position for its second straight home win.
Counterpart Ben Olsen of D.C. United said he wasn't certain about the worthiness of either penalty kick, and that one probably "evened out" the other. While Espindola almost gently kicked left while goalkeeper Bill Hamid dove right, Davies simply blasted his shot low under diving keeper Nick Rimando.
"Whenever I step to the penalty spot, I feel I am going to score," Davies said. "I knew that Nicky is a good PK stopper. I just wanted to hit it with power and put it in the corner, and I was able to do that."
However painful the disappointment for RSL, it's also fair to debate whether it was fortunate to emerge with a draw, considering United's Chris Pontius rattled the crossbar twice with rockets that Rimando was helpless to defend one in stoppage time though RSL wasted chances, too.
Most notably, midfielder Collen Warner took a bad touch on a spectacular through ball in the first half that kept him from a one-on-one opportunity against Hamid in the box.
Instead, the ball raced ahead into Hamid's waiting arms, and RSL later had to stew about having allowed United to get downfield for the equalizer in the first place.
"We can talk all we want about the penalty," Kreis said, "but I'd rather talk about how it gets there, because you don't want to open yourself up to a counterattack when you have a 1-0 lead when you have a dead ball that's yours."
The loss er, draw moved RSL to 6-3-4 for 22 points at the start of a 10-game stretch featuring seven home games that Kreis said represented a "huge opportunity â¦ to collect a bunch of points."
United moved to 4-5-5 for 17 points, with its first point in Utah since a 3-1 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium in RSL's inaugural season in 2005.
"We have to be very disappointed to have kind of the three points wrapped up," Kreis said, and "to give away the counterattack and then be at the mercy of the referee's decision."