A couple of truths blared like an echoing clarion in a shower stall at Rio Tinto Stadium before Wednesday night’s Real Salt Lake-Philadelphia match: 1) RSL doesn’t lose to the Union, and 2) RSL doesn’t lose at all.
That horn was muffled a bit through the subsequent action, but a home loss was avoided in the final seconds of extra time, after Real trailed throughout, when Javier Morales nailed a penalty kick following a Philly infraction. On an off night, then, when it betrayed itself with its play, Salt Lake would take the 2-2 draw and run.
It’d been nearly two months and 10 games in all competitions since Real had last tasted defeat. And by way of that blistering span, the club had risen to the top of the MLS standings, and had done so with a comprehensive combination of stiff defense and explosive scoring. If there’s any other way to win, these guys have no need for it.
RSL had allowed only three goals in June and, at the other end, scored 17 of its own. Real Salt Lake now stands second in league play in total goals scored this season, having utilized its standard diamond formation, as well as moving a third forward up front. Making room and creating space for rising young strikers is a sweet problem to have.
Either way, Real was indeed blowing that certain trumpet.
Pile on top of that the fact that RSL, in five previous outings against Philly, had never flat-out dropped a game, and … well, a continuation of a more and more remarkable streak was at hand.
Under normal conditions, a tie would have sucked. But with the way this match unfolded, it was a blessing.
The Union scored first, in the 13th minute, on a nice move by Conor Casey, who beat a sliding Carlos Salcedo before sending an assist to Sebastien Le Toux directly in front of Real’s Josh Saunders. The goalkeeper’s limited options at that moment were to either jump the pass or sit steady as a dead duck. He chose the latter, and RSL was down, 1-zip.
In the 19th minute, Robbie Findley barely missed a header intended to equalize. No dice. In the 35th, Joao Plata couldn’t get a shot past Philly GK Zac MacMath. Two minutes later, Javier Morales failed from in tight.
At times, RSL struggled to even advance the ball out of its defensive third. When it managed to get into its attack, it couldn’t sync up, nor finish.
That got worse in the second half, when midfielder Lovel Palmer was sent off with a red card on what looked like a weak call by referee Ismail Elfath.
Still, chances came to RSL. Luis Gil pulled off a spectacular play, heading a ball into the net, leveling the thing at one in the 75th minute. But a few seconds after, Casey easily beat Saunders, putting the Union up, again, 2-1.
From there, RSL tried real hard, but couldn’t finish as the clock wound down. Just as defeat was at Real’s door, the Philly foul was called, and Morales banged his shot into the goal.
That result was made, if not glorious, at least acceptable on this occasion, given a sellout crowd gathered at Rio Tinto to enjoy a double-shot of celebration — half of it for Real’s performance and the other for the post-match fireworks show on the eve of Independence Day.
Speaking of patriotism, RSL was playing Wednesday night without four of its biggest stars, summoned as they were for national team duties — Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) and Tony Beltran, who also happened to be suspended for this game, had he not been called up.
On the flip side, Union striker and MLS leading scorer Jack McInerney was also missing at the behest of the U.S. team.
As it went, RSL, under duress, made do with its fill-ins and its sometimes-lackluster play. Major League Soccer’s hottest team may not have stayed so hot on a hot July night. But the horn it blew this time around was better and louder than if it had blown the game instead.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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