Here are three takeaways from Real Salt Lake’s 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
1. Goals change games. Mistakes do, too.
It’s hard to say conclusively whether Real Salt Lake or the Chicago Fire deserved to win this game. It’s easy to imagine either outcome, and maybe that’s why it ended in a draw.
But neither club played particularly well. Each had its moments. Ultimately, though, it was the mistakes that defined the outcome of this one.
RSL’s came before the game was four minutes old. Everton Luiz fouled Dax McCarty on a slide tackle just a few yards away from the 18-yard box. RSL didn’t like the call, but it was made nonetheless.
A minute later, Aleksandar Katai put a free kick through a space in the wall of RSL defenders, and Nick Rimando was late to react. Goal, Chicago.
The Fire weren’t innocent either in this regard. In the 32rd minute, a headed ball found Mohammed Adams in the penalty box. Adams tried to hit it away with this shoulder but at the same time extended his arm and hit the ball with his forearm. Predictably, the referee whistled for a penalty shot, and Albert Rusnák buried it to tie the score. It was an easily avoidable situation that may have cost the Fire three points.
2. Possession doesn’t always mean much
RSL pretty much dominated the possession against Chicago, finishing with 56.1% percent of it compared to 43.9% for the Fire. Typically, the home team wins the possession battle because the opponent will sit back in the defensive third and basically allow the home team to have the ball more.
But Chicago was the team that sat back for the majority of the game. It didn’t deviate from that game plan until late when it tried for a game-winning goal after the score had been 1-1 for almost 60 minutes of play.
The Fire sat so deep that the strategy even prompted a few surprised comments from analyst Brian Dunseth during the broadcast.
Regardless of the possession advantage, RSL had the same number of shots (seven) and shots on target (two) as the Fire, and the passing accuracy numbers were virtually identical.
So the saying goes: It doesn’t matter how long you have the ball; it matters what you do with it.
3. Finally some rest for the road weary
RSL played 10 of its first 16 games on the road. Many of them, including the two before facing Chicago, were losses.
In his assessment of the first half of the season, RSL general manager Craig Waibel said RSL’s performance was “respectable” given how many road games the club played. But over the next 11 games, that won’t be the narrative.
RSL will play the eight of its next 11 games at Rio Tinto Stadium, a place that gave them and the fanbase so many good feelings last season. So far this year, though, Real has struggled at home by comparison. That could be because seemingly every other week, they’re traveling to another city.
With Salt Lake barely above the playoff line in the Western Conference, this part of the schedule could not have come at a better time. What the team does with it, however, remains to be seen.