This game may be remembered in December, which would not be a good thing for Real Salt Lake.
If the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7 seems a long way off, that day hardly could take much longer to arrive than Saturday’s end of stoppage time in RSL’s 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL absolutely deserved a better result while facing staggering personnel issues before, during and after this game.
Already short-staffed, Real played a man down for the final 30 minutes and competed gamely. This team usually disdains home-field ties, but a point in the standings — and limiting KC to one point, instead of three — certainly would have been acceptable under the circumstances.
A meaningful game in the middle of the Major League Soccer regular season? That’s a novelty. So, to some degree, was RSL coach Jason Kreis’ all-out blaming of inexperienced referee Matthew Foerster and the MLS administrators who assigned him to a high-profile contest.
"He should not have been refereeing that game," Kreis said.
While I never like to endorse such complaints or attribute any outcome to officiating, Kreis merits this forum because of the outstanding job he’s doing this season and the conditions his team was dealing with Saturday.
The league’s two best teams battled in a physical, confrontational, controversial game that ultimately turned when Real defender Chris Wingert was ejected for a second yellow card. Foerster’s call was "an incredibly poor decision against us," Kreis said.
RSL almost immediately gave up a tying goal, and tried vainly to hold on for the tie.
Somehow, you just knew this was not going to end well, when Kreis and others on the bench kept pressuring the officials to determine that stoppage time was exhausted after the ball was knocked out of bounds. KC’s corner kick was allowed to occur and Ike Opara headed home the winning goal in the 97th minute. Just like that, RSL’s club-record 11-game unbeaten streak (counting Gold Cup competition) was over.
Do the math: That’s seven extra minutes, after stoppage time was announced as five minutes. "Those are difficult things to keep track of, I guess," Kreis said wryly.
The standings are more clear-cut. Even after the loss, RSL (11-6-4) remains just ahead of KC (10-5-6), in position to win its first Supporters Shield for the best regular-season record in the league and potentially host the MLS Cup final.
Now that RSL’s remarkable run is over, it has to be said that this kind of success simply was not supposed to happen in 2013. On that Monday in December when three dependable players were traded in moves made necessary by the salary cap — the "day of reckoning," by general manager Garth Lagerwey’s description — this season immediately presented itself as a case of rebuilding and reorganizing.
Next thing you know, RSL’s leading the entire league. The recent run of six wins and two ties in MLS play came with 10 players lost due to injury or international duty at various times. Real again played without mainstays Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Alvaro Saborio and Tony Beltran, all involved in the Gold Cup tournament. Third-string goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made his first MLS start, thanks to Rimando’s absence and Josh Saunders’ season-ending knee injury, becoming the 25th player to be introduced as an RSL starter this season.
And yet these guys kept winning — until Saturday, when they deserved a tie, at worst.
The obvious conclusion is that Kreis is doing some of his finest work in his seventh season. All he wanted Saturday was for the league’s officiating department to match him.
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