Here are three takeaways from Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 loss Saturday to the San Jose Earthquakes.
1. Not playing through the whistle
When the RSL coaches and players sit down and watch the film of the loss to San Jose, they’re not going to be happy.
They weren’t happy after the loss, of course. Giving up a goal in the third of four minutes of stoppage time is going to eat at them. But it was the way it happened that hurts most.
The ball rolled out of bounds and the referee signaled for a corner kick. But the attention of both teams was toward a referee who decided to not to give the Earthquakes a free kick near the 18-yard box. When play resumed, several RSL players tried to get back into the play and defend Paul Marie, who was wide open in a dangerous area. Marie passed to Danny Hoesen, who was also open, and Hoesen scored. That was the game.
Players from both teams complained, but San Jose took advantage of the opportunity. Because it did, the Earthquakes earned three points instead of having to settle for just one at home.
RSL coach Mike Petke said after the game that all it takes is 10 seconds of dropping off to get punished. Maybe it was fatigue from playing three games in eight days. Maybe it was futilely trying to reverse a referee’s decision. Maybe both. Only the players themselves can answer that.
But moments like that are why RSL is so difficult to read at times. After winning two games in a row and seemingly finding a groove, a juvenile mistake buries the team. Now Real is out of the playoff picture for the moment. When a team like Salt Lake is fighting for a playoff spot, every mistake is amplified.
2. Lineup shakeup performed formidably
Nedum Onuoha and Sam Johnson didn’t make the trip due to injures. Albert Rusnák, Justen Glad and Sebastian Saucedo came off the bench. Jefferson Savarino was back from a Copa America stint with Venezuela.
All that meant Petke went with a lineup very different from the one that started on Wednesday. Savarino got the nod along with Erik Holt, Marcelo Silva and Nick Besler. The rotation was a needed one due to injuries and the truncated schedule.
The good news is they all played well. Savarino created opportunities while also showing some of the flashy ball handling fans know him for. Belser had a solid, low-key performance, as is tradition for him. Holt and Silva defended with gusto and effectiveness. Holt in particular made some tackles that initially he looked like he wouldn’t be able to make.
Loss aside, this is good news for Petke. Holt has impressed in his rookie year, and the subs are proving that they can step in when needed. That has not always been the case for RSL. A solid performance with that many lineup changes should give the team some confidence.
3. Every game now fells like a knockout round game
As it stands after Saturday’s games, there are only six points separating third and eighth place in the Western Conference standings. That’s a measly two wins. RSL is in eighth right now.
With the slew of home games coming up against some beatable opponents, it’s a prime opportunity for Salt Lake to put its best foot forward and climb up the standings. But with how tight the race is at this point, any crack in form could feel like a chasm. Much like last season, one point could mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to making the playoffs.
RSL players have said they want to be considered one of the top teams in the league. Sebastian Saucedo has said repeatedly that the roster is special. Losing against San Jose somewhat flies in the face of those two notions.
The time for Real is now, and that perhaps has never been more clear than the game against San Jose.