Sandy • For two playoff games, Real Salt Lake’s execution has been almost as precise as surgery.
And for those two playoff games, RSL’s focus translated into surprising results: a 3-2 road win over Los Angeles Football Club in the knockout round, and a 1-1 draw against a much more rested Sporting Kansas City team Sunday.
But in one moment, Real’s execution slipped. A seemingly routine clearance for keeper Nick Rimando was deflected by a defender and bounced 20 yards from the goal to Diego Rubio, who beat Rimando’s dive with a strike and tied the game after subbing in less a minute earlier.
“The goal that we conceded was kind of a fluke,” defender Brooks Lennon told KSL after the game.
The reason Rimando was clearing the ball in the first place was because it was played back to him by Justen Glad. Head coach Mike Petke said there were several points throughout the game, particularly in the first half, where his players gave the ball to Rimando when it may not have been necessary to do so.
“I don’t think the ball that Nicky got blocked should have came back to Nicky,” Petke said Monday after the game. “Again, it goes back to how many balls were played back to Nick tonight. I think there were better options than to play back to him.”
Petke said Rimando may have had more touches on the ball Monday than he has the entire season. The veteran keeper tallied 54 touches, per whoscored.com.
Several players expressed disappointment in the way they conceded the goal to Rubio, including Corey Baird, who was named Rookie of the Year by the league Tuesday, who considered it a fluke.
“That’s just what happens when you play a quality team — guy gets space in front of the box like that, he’s going to punish you,” Baird said Monday. “It’s just unfortunate that space came from a deflected clearance, not a nice buildup from them.”
But in the playoffs, a fluke is enough to cost a team its season. Giving up that goal to the road team means RSL has to score at least two in Kansas City to make sure it advances to the next round in the event of a tie.
If another 1-1 tie transpires, RSL and SKC will play overtimes and possibly go to penalty kicks, just like they did in the 2013 MLS Cub final. Of course, If Real wins outright, it will also advance.