Sandy • They were hot, creating chances, looking like they could’ve replicated the magnificence they’d sustained during the last two outings.
At this time of the season, that’s all you need to do, really. Find a rhythm, and do whatever you can to get stuck there for as long as you possibly can. Real Salt Lake was there, storming north up the Western Conference standings, inching ever-so-close to that precious desired postseason berth. It’s still in shouting distance, sure. And granted, five weeks in Major League Soccer is an eternity, and anything can happen — good or bad.
But unlike the previous matches where they just took the will of their opponents and never bothered giving it back, RSL faltered late Saturday night. They blinked in a position they shouldn’t have been in in the first place. And that allowed change to befall Rio Tinto Stadium. Those three points that looked all but a lock, gone, poof. Things broke the opposite way for a now formerly-hot RSL.
“People can’t expect us to score six goals every game and put up those kinds of performances,” midfielder Albert Rusnák said, “but of course, we try.”
And they were let off the hook, too, in the 1-1 draw against Minnesota United Saturday night. If Minnesota forward Romario Ibarra was a yard in another direction, RSL would be staring at a hefty “L” at home against the worst road teams in the league. Regardless, RSL fell short of expectations after dominating the last two games, pouring in 12 goals, capturing the attention of MLS.
“I’m at a little bit of a loss right now,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “I did not see this coming.”
Miguel Ibarra pulled Minnesota level in the 84th minute, catching the RSL back line snoozing, finishing what might be the easiest shot of his 2018 season. RSL shouldn’t have been in that position, anyway. They owned possession at home, had over a dozen shots, but not nearly enough on target.
“We allowed them to walk out of here with a point,” Petke said. “All the good that these players have done the last three games, with really going for the jugular, we just didn’t seem to have that tonight.”
This match served as a reminder. There are no guarantees in this league, and these two dropped points could be another disastrous learning lesson. RSL left home with one point, but after a lengthy VAR review by referee Chris Penso, the lead official ruled that Miguel Ibarra’s 87th-minute goal, the one that would’ve given Minnesota just its second road win of the year, was played to him by a teammate, the other Ibarra, in an offside position.
Damir Kreilach’s third goal in three matches put RSL up early in the 11th minute. Kreilach took advantage of the time and space allotted to him by the Minnesota defense and cooly picked out the far left corner. The Croatian midfielder now has a team-high 11 goals in his first year in Utah and a total of five during RSL’s four-game win streak.
Justen Glad used his lengthy legs to get there just in time, clearing what would’ve been a certain goal into the stands in the 48th minute. A rare breakdown during this stretch in which RSL has looked, well, not entirely locked-in.
So much of this late-summer swing has been RSL on one wavelength, the attack in stride, the midfield ready to serve as aid and the defense ready to rescue. Then the breakdowns came in bursts, one after another, and RSL did not look like the team other Western Conference teams might fear in the postseason.
“Just a frustrating night overall,” right back Brooks Lennon said.
For a small stretch, they looked lost at home, a rarity in 2018.