Real Salt Lake has been so strong defensively in recent weeks that the trend has been the subject of several questions from reporters over that span. The answer from coaches and players generally has been that RSL is playing defense from the front of the field all the way to the back four.
But the club’s defense was exploited Sunday as it lost 3-1 to Minnesota United at Allianz Field. Darwin Quintero, Jr. scored a brace as RSL conceded more than one goal for the first time in a month.
“When you see the whole game, we were not on the same page,” RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach told KMYU after the game. "It was the biggest problem.”
Midfielder Albert Rusnák put away a goal for Salt Lake, giving him 10 on the season. Ethan Finlay scored down the final stretch of the game to put the game away.
With RSL’s loss and the Seattle Sounders beating the New York Red Bulls 4-2, Salt Lake dropped to fourth in the Western Conference standings with four games remaining in the regular season.
In a game just hours after veteran Tony Beltran announced his retirement, RSL was caught scrambling time and time again on Minnesota’s counter attacks. From the first few minutes of the game, it became clear that the Loons were going to let Real possess the ball and take their opportunities should a turnover happen.
And turnovers happened a lot.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think we were clean enough on the ball,” RSL defender Aaron Herrera told KMYU. “I feel we just didn’t stick to the game plan that we wanted to.”
After Rusnák’s 18th-minute score gave Salt Lake a 1-0 lead, Quintero came back with the equalizer just two minutes later. A perfectly placed through ball from Kevin Molino arrived at the feet of Quintero, who brought out RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando with a crossover and softly put the ball in the goal.
But it was the second half where RSL looked the most disjointed. Kreilach said the team didn’t react well in the second 45 minutes and that’s why it lost.
Interim coach Freddy Juarez pointed to the possession battle, and how the Loons took advantage of it, as to a possible reason RSL struggled.
“I’ll take blame [and] responsibility for it,” Juarez told KMYU of the loss. “The team opened up a little too much. We found it at times easy in possession, and with the possession, it was almost used against us.”
RSL had 61% of the possession while Minnesota had only 39%. But the Loons were content letting Real pass the ball around and wait for their moment. When those moments came, MUFC was off to the races.
In the 51st minute, Minnesota won a loose ball and kicked it ahead to Quintero, who avoided a collision at midfield between two RSL players. Quintero took the ball up the field himself, practically unencumbered, and rocketed a strike past Rimando for a 2-1 lead.
Then in the 83rd, on yet another MUFC counter attack, Romain Métanire switched the field to Ethan Finlay, who was unmarked on the left side. Finlay’s goal provided the final score.
“I think all our problems came from us,” Herrera said. “We were the ones sort of gifting them chances.”