Sandy • Moments after a dismal 10-minute stretch resulted in a disheartening 2-2 home draw with Vancouver, Jeff Cassar stood at the podium and said Real Salt Lake must learn to become more aware of danger.
For its strong start — still unbeaten in Major League Soccer — RSL (3-0-5) hasn’t been able to shake its penchant for conceding late goals early in 2014. With that, as Cassar explained, comes the task of locking down late in matches.
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"I think we could have closed this game out relatively easy," Cassar said, "but we made it hard on ourselves by giving the ball away."
Whatever the theme may be, RSL’s inability to protect late leads is resulting in the club essentially stealing points from itself. RSL, which has led in seven of its first eight outings, has given up five goals beyond the 75th minute thus far this season. It saw a 3-1 lead at San Jose evaporate on March 15 when the Earthquakes scored two goals to earn a home draw. The Philadelphia Union suppressed RSL’s momentum on April 12 when Maurice Edu’s 90th-minute goal canceled out a Kyle Beckerman goal that gave his team a 2-1 lead five minutes earlier.
But Saturday’s result at home against the Whitecaps may have carried the most sting. RSL dominated the first half, put the visitors in the rear-view after the first 45, but couldn’t find its footing in the second half as Vancouver pressed with three forwards, while RSL couldn’t get comfortable knocking the ball around. Substitutes Nicolas Mezquida and Sebastian Fernandez supplied the two goals in an eight-minute span, but Fernandez’s 35-yard blast punctuated RSL’s struggles in the second half and its difficulties to control possession and manage a late two-goal lead.
"We gave up two goals that we shouldn’t have," defender Chris Wingert said. "We shouldn’t have to score a third, we should be able to kill the game off. There are a number of ways of winning that game — keeping them off the scoreboard, or scoring a third and the game’s probably over, and we didn’t do any of them unfortunately."
What adds intrigue to RSL’s start is its ability to avoid falling behind. San Jose struck first in Week 2 in the fifth minute of play, but RSL hasn’t needed to claw back into a match since. So how do Cassar, the staff and players go about trying to fix the late leaks after impressive starts?
"Obviously, the staff has to look at themselves, and I’ve got to look at what I could’ve done better, first and foremost, to help the guys," Cassar said. "Going over video, keep stressing it, putting them in situations in practice where they have to defend a lead."
Now, the club sets out for back-to-back road matches starting this weekend at Chicago, which sits in last place in the Eastern Conference at 0-1-6. RSL visits Houston on May 11.
"It’s a tough lesson for us to learn at this point in the season to not be able to close the game out at home, and being able to be better at positioning and our decisions overall with the ball," said defender Nat Borchers, "but we’ll learn from it."
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