Sandy • As the game between two surging Western Conference teams began, Real Salt Lake was below the playoff line while Minnesota United was safely nestled in fourth place. The Loons came in with a four-game winning streak, while Real had won three of its last four.
On paper, Minnesota and Salt Lake were evenly matched at this point in the Major League Soccer season. But with the Loons being the third-highest-scoring team in the league, it goes without typing that Real would have its work cut out for it defensively.
But what was on paper transpired in the game Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium as Real and the Loons played to a 1-1 draw. RSL climbed into the seventh and final playoff spot, while Minnesota stayed in fourth.
RSL coach Mike Petke took the onus on himself for the draw. He said he pushed his players too hard during the week of training.
“This was really the first week that it was 100 degrees — at least where we were in Herriman,” Petke said. “We moved practice a little early and I pushed them a little too hard. So I take full fault for a bit of the lackluster because it was lackluster. It was a bit uninspiring.”
Brooks Lennon said the result was “frustrating.”
“Tough result for us,” Lennon said. “I think we needed the three points at home.”
The draw marked the sixth consecutive home game without a loss for RSL. The previous five were outright wins.
Nick Rimando saved a screamer of a shot by Jan Gregus in the 57th minute and immediately appeared to yell at Brooks Lennon. On the ensuing corner kick, Gregus’ ball found the head of Mason Toye before Darwin Quintero finished with his own header for a 1-0 lead.
Jefferson Savarino had a hand in leveling the game at 1-1 in the 70th minute. A corner kick was cleared away, but the Venezuelan recovered it and put a low cross into the box, where center back Marcelo Silva was waiting. Silva scissor-kicked with his right foot off one bounce and buried it in the back of the net.
Lennon said he could feel something coming just before Silva’s equalizer. Silva said through a translator that Minnesota was zone-marking in the box and the first pass in went a little long. But Savarino eventually found him.
“Most of the players started to get closer to the goal and I had the position to be alone and score the goal,” Silva said.
Salt Lake’s goal changed the complexion of the game and brought life not only to Rio Tinto Stadium, but the team as well. RSL put together several chances to take the lead in the final 20 minutes of the game, but none of those went its way.
Minnesota almost grabbed a late goal in the 88th when Gregus’ shot hit the back post. The ball ricocheted off the post then off the RSL goalkeeper’s leg before Real got it away from danger.
Savarino provided the first viable chance in the first minute of the second half when he sent a curling shot toward the goal. But Loons goalkeeper Vito Mannone made a diving save.
The first half felt all kinds of disjointed. Only one shot on goal transpired between the two teams and there seemed to be an overall malaise on the field. But once the scoring started, the energy from both teams picked up.
Lennon said he thought the team was too sloppy on the ball and didn’t have enough movement.
“Just a frustrating result overall,” Lennon said. “But it’s better to take one point than zero, so you have to look at the positives.”