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Monthslong emphasis on involving outside backs in attack results in two goals by Real Salt Lake defenders

Vancouver Whitecaps' Yordy Reyna, left, and Real Salt Lake's Tony Beltran vie for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

The morning of Real Salt Lake’s 3-2 loss at Vancouver, left back Chris Wingert tuned into Premier League action and watched forward Harry Kane curl a cross into the net and accidentally score his 100th goal for Tottenham.

“Why can’t I get one like that?” he said to his roommate, backup goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel.

That night, he did. Wingert scored on a curler meant for Yura Movsisyan’s head. Later Tony Beltran put RSL’s second goal into the net to make Saturday the first time this season that defenders contributed multiple goals in a game. The anomaly, however, wasn’t surprising considering coach Mike Petke’s emphasis on involving the outside backs in the attack.

“I think the system Mike is having us play is much more aggressive than we’ve previously played,” Beltran said, “That gives the outside backs a lot more freedom to move up beyond the line, and I’ve enjoyed playing it very, very much and I think it suits my game.”

Beltran scored the first MLS goal of his 10-year career on a left-footed shot in the 83rd minute Saturday to narrow Vancouver’s lead to 3-2.

Before Saturday, no RSL fullback had scored since Aaron Maund buried a header off a cross back on May 17. Their offensive contributions were instead measured in assists or didn’t show up on the stat sheet at all.

Defenders combined to contribute four assists this season, two from Danilo Acosta and two from Demar Phillips.

As members of the back line, however, Wingert and Beltran’s goals didn’t stick in their minds as solidly as Vancouver’s did.

The first goal especially haunted Wingert: Cristian Techera converted a cross by Jakob Nerwinski while Wingert marked the latter.

“They had an overlap and I was trying to kind of bait the guy for a second, not leave him wide open,” he said, “but they were still able to get a cross off. And no one was on Techera.”

Wingert evened the score with a first-half goal to go into the intermission tied 1-1. Then in the second half, RSL gave up one goal on a set piece and another immediately following a turnover.

Real Salt Lake's Joao Plata, left, collides with Vancouver Whitecaps' Tim Parker, center, and Jordan Harvey during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

“We wanted to be in the locker room at half time in a position to win the game or get something out of the game,” Beltran said, “and I thought we did well in the first half limiting their chances on the counter. I think as space opened up in the second half maybe we lost a little bit of focus in some areas and I think there were a couple turnovers that ended up hurting us.”

When RSL (10-14-5, 35 points) left the locker room Saturday night, it still sat just two points out of the last Western Conference playoff spot, thanks in part to San Jose’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Toronto.

“Today was a huge opportunity,” Wingert said after the game. “We knew that, but no time to hang our heads. We’re still right in it.”

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