Sandy • The end result for Real Salt Lake was as cold as the frigid spring air Saturday night. In the driver’s seat for 85 minutes, staring at another win at Rio Tinto Stadium, a potential milestone shutout for Nick Rimando and a climb northward in the Western Conference standings, RSL couldn’t keep its grasp on a two-goal lead.
When Vancouver’s Sebastian Fernandez’s 35-yard laser slipped into the inside of the post in the waning seconds of stoppage time to cancel out a furious start by RSL, the fans packed inside Rio Tinto let out a collective groan.
That groan signified another disappointing draw. RSL’s 2-2 tie with the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps kept the club affirmed as Major League Soccer’s lone undefeated team as the team moved to 14 points at 3-0-5. But to concede two goals in Sandy so very late was a definite gut-punch for RSL.
"We have to be more consistent," said midfielder Javier Morales. "We have to know the game is 90 minutes, not only 45."
The first 45 was spectacular, while the second 45 was off-balanced.
Vancouver defender Steven Beitashour followed through with a timely tackle on Alvaro Saborio as the clock approached its maximum four minutes of signaled stoppage time. The ball rolled to Fernandez who picked his head up and let loose a rocket. The shot, low and with serious power, barely kissed off the grass as it moved by Rimando into the net.
That came on the heels of Vancouver’s 86th-minute goal as substitute Nicolas Mezquida ran onto a ball that Rimando deflected following Darren Mattocks hit a low shot at the RSL goalkeeper. Unmarked, Mezquida got his body on the ball to pull one back for the Whitecaps.
"It’s just the cruel bounces of the game sometimes," said defender Nat Borchers. "I give a lot of credit to Vancouver."
Conceding late goals has been the club’s bugaboo early in 2014. The two goals given up late Saturday upped the number of goals RSL has conceded beyond the 75th minute to five in the first eight matches of the season.
"Every game takes on a life of its own," defender Chris Wingert said. "This had nothing to do with the games we won 1-0, the games we let up a late goal against somebody else - completely different situation - but we need to continue to learn on our mistakes and try and improve."
The finish may make some forget the start.
Forward Joao Plata, starting in his first match since March 22, took 112 seconds to give RSL the early 1-0 lead against Vancouver. Midfielder Luke Mulholland allowed a pass from Wingert to roll through his legs as Plata snared the ball, turned the corner into the box and fired to the far post and in.
Seven minutes later, Saborio one-upped his fellow forward.
The Costa Rican star curled a gorgeous left-footed shot to by the outstretched arms of Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted to give RSL an early commanding lead.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy dribbled atop the box through a sea of Whitecap defenders before leaving the ball to an unmarked Saborio to strike it for the eventual goal.
The start was tremendous for RSL, but the finish was anything but.
"We had the two-goal lead," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "We really needed to take care of the ball, and I thought we gave it away maybe a little too cheaply."
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