Despite conceding early goal, Real Salt Lake draws 1-1 with Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire midfielder Nicolas Gaitan, center, is defended by Real Salt Lake midfielder Everton Luiz, left, and forward Corey Baird during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, June 22, 2019, in Bridgeview, Ill. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Part of the reason why Real Salt Lake sneaked into the playoffs last season was its ability to eke out enough ties. The club finished with seven of them, and just one fewer would have meant that the L.A. Galaxy, not RSL, would have had an opportunity to make a run for a Major League Soccer trophy.

This season, however, ties have come few and far between. Save for the opener against the Houston Dynamo, Salt Lake has either won or lost games.

But that trend changed for one night Saturday, as RSL overcame an early mistake and played the host Chicago Fire to a 1-1 draw at SeatGeek Stadium. It was the first time this season RSL didn’t lose after conceding the first goal of the game.

“It’s a hard-fought point on road,” midfielder Albert Rusnák told KMYU after the game. “We appreciate every point we can get on the road. Our objective was to get three. But if you can’t get three, you take one point.”

The result kept Real in seventh place in the Western Conference with 20 points. Vancouver, which has 18 points, could overtake RSL with a win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.

RSL gave up a goal on a free kick in the fifth minute of action. Aleksandar Katai’s shot, which wasn’t struck with immense pace, made it through the wall of RSL players and past goalkeeper Nick Rimando for a 1-0 lead.

Throughout the rest of the first half, RSL got plenty of shots — six to be exact — but could get only one of them on target. Defender Justen Glad called the team’s early effort “sloppy” in a halftime interview with KMYU and said it would have to “keep creating chances and be lethal in the box” in the second 45 minutes.

But RSL got only one more shot in the second half. The only reason it had an opportunity to tie the game was due to a mistake by the Fire. Mohammed Adams committed a handball penalty in the 33rd minute and offered no objection to the call from the referee. Because the infraction was in the box, Rusnák took a penalty kick. He buried it, as he has four times now this season, and tied the game at one goal apiece.

Both clubs had some chances to put away a game-winner as the game clock ticked closer to 90 minutes, but neither found the back of the net.

RSL coach Mike Petke liked the way his team found a way to level the game.

“It shows that we had some resilience,” Petke told KMYU. “To go down that early in the game, it could have gone — as we’ve seen in the past sometimes — a different way.”

For RSL, the tie ended a run of three consecutive road MLS games, of which the first two were losses. It also lost a home U.S. Open Cup match to LAFC in the middle of a three-week break.

Now with eight of the next 11 games at home, RSL could have a chance to climb up the Western Conference standings.

“At home, we have to be a fortress,” Rusnák said. “We have to be on the front foot. Most importantly, we have to take three points.”

Plata reportedly staying with RSL for the moment

Soccer analyst Brian Dunseth reported during the KMYU broadcast that a deal between RSL forward Joao Plata and Liga MX team Atletico San Luis is dead.

Dunseth said there was a verbal and written agreement between two sides, but the contract was not signed after it was sent to the Liga MX side. Plata trained with RSL this week, but did not make the trip to Chicago.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported last month that the club was shopping Plata to at least one Liga MX team.