Real Salt Lake’s Nat Borchers and Kyle Beckerman made Major League Soccer history at the start of Saturday night’s game, but the Chicago Fire spoiled all the fun in the end.
Just when RSL finally pulled ahead and positioned itself for a victory that the home team certainly deserved, Chicago’s Quincy Amarikwa rewrote the favored script. Wrestling with Borchers in front of the net, Amarikwa managed to deliver a wraparound kick and beat Real goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the 84th minute.
So the 1-1 tie was a disappointing outcome at Rio Tinto Stadium, after RSL dominated the game. Chicago’s goal — not Borchers’ fault, according to coach Jason Kreis, who said another RSL defender lost Amarikwa — short-circuited any celebration of a major milestone for two of Real’s historically most valuable players.
Borchers and Beckerman played together in a 209th MLS regular-season game, breaking the league record for any pair of teammates. A shutout would have been a nice reward for them on a night when Kreis said RSL (6-5-3) was "the better team by far." The Fire’s seventh goal in 11 games this season came at absolutely the wrong time, after Chicago rarely threatened to score.
Having played together for Colorado from 2003-05, Borchers and Beckerman were reunited with RSL in advance of the ’08 season — after Borchers spent two years in Norway. The team made annual playoff appearances in their first five seasons with Real, highlighted by an MLS Cup title and two other conference finals berths. The the two of them became franchise cornerstones after the personnel overhaul by Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey.
Borchers and Beckerman moved ahead of New England goalkeeper Matt Reis and midfielder Shalrie Joseph, who played together until Joseph was traded to Seattle in February. Borchers has played only 27 of his 236 career games in MLS without Beckerman in front of him.
"He’s just a fantastic guy to play soccer with," Borchers said in the locker room.
Stopping on his way out of the stadium, Beckerman said of Borchers, "I love playing with him, having him behind me. He’s the utmost professional, a great competitor. It’s been a lot of fun and, hopefully, we can continue."
Kreis described the twosome as "irreplaceable, unbelievably important to us as a franchise."
The veterans mean even more to Real this season, following the trades of Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave in cost-cutting moves. Borchers is regarded as RSL’s steadying presence in the back end. Beckerman is the team’s captain and emotional leader.
But this became a frustrating night for them and everybody associated with RSL. Beckerman barely missed two decent scoring chances midway through the first half, and his teammates delivered a bunch of those near-misses before Alvaro Saborio’s header found the net in the 78th minute.
Borchers has endured a rough season, while missing five games because of injury and illness. In the late stages of a mid-April game at Vancouver, he slipped, causing his arm to deflect a loose ball. The controversial call created a penalty kick that enabled the Whitecaps to tie the game.
In Saturday’s episode, Kreis contended that Chicago’s long throw-in that led to the tying goal was an illegal, one-handed toss. Borchers just wished he could have prevented that kick, even though Amarikwa was not his responsibility.
Ultimately, the result was a failure to finish properly as RSL began a four-game homestand in MLS play.
"We have to deal with those things better," Borchers said, "if we want to be an elite team in this league."
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