Three Points: RSL might already see the writing on the wall, questionable yellow cards, and Herrera will be missed

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) is slow to get to his feet after being knocked to the ground hard, in MLS action between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City, in Sandy, Saturday, June 29, 2019.

Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes from beat writer Alex Vejar.

1. RSL might already see the writing on the wall

Defender Aaron Herrera’s body language during the postgame press conference said it all.

Herrera is usually a pretty energetic person. Even after a loss, he may not be happy but he would sit up and be engaged. Wednesday night though, he was slumped in his chair, and his voice was much more muted than usual. The upset and frustration wasn’t hidden at all.

And midfielder Albert Rusnák’s comments to the television broadcast verbally mirrored Herrera’s body language.

“We all as players have to look ourselves in the mirror and just say this was far from good and this was far from a performance you have to do to get into the playoffs,” Rusnák said. “Maybe there’s some mathematical chance that we can still get in. But with this loss tonight, we made it difficult.”

Could it be possible that RSL, on some level, knows it’s not making the playoffs?

The short answer is yes, it’s possible. They’re humans, after all. And after a season like 2020 where they’ve underperformed at home, had injuries to key guys like Nedum Onuoha and Everton Luiz, and can’t seem to find any consistent rhythm offensively, it makes sense that they’d feel it was over with just two games left.

It’s not over, however, as coach Freddy Juarez has said time and time again. RSL still does have a mathematical chance to make the playoffs, and starts with beating the bottom-dwelling L.A. Galaxy on Sunday.

The team just has to believe it can win. And right now, that belief seems to be waning.

2. It was all yellow

Juarez was asked a question about whether the slew of yellow cards against RSL in the first half affected the team in some way in the second. His answer bordered on fineable from the league.

“The referee, he’s new, he hasn’t reffed many games,” Juarez said. “I thought it was a little lopsided. They kicked the heck out of us a few times, no yellow. We get into some contact with them, yellow. The kick on Marcelo [Silva], he has cleat marks midway through his shin. That to me is potentially a red card. That changes the game. It’s on him, we see it on the big screen. I don’t want to get into that stuff.”

The tone of his voice made it clear. Juarez may not have wanted to get into it more publicly, but he had to put forth some real effort not to say more than he did.

Elton García was the main referee for Sunday’s game. It was his fourth MLS game ever, per soccer stats website Who Scored. He gave five yellow cards to RSL and just two to San Jose.

Some yellows for RSL were deserved, like this one against Silva where he’s clearly late to a tackle.

But others were questionable. Here, midfielder Damir Kreilach gets some contact in the box and goes down. He got a yellow for simulation, which means faking the contact to bait the referee. The NBC Sports announcers agreed with the call, but the local RSL announcers said it unequivocally was not simulation.

Here’s the sequence Juarez argues should have resulted in a yellow card, and below is a photo of Silva’s ankle.

A photo of Real Salt Lake defender Marcelo Silva's ankle.

Fans can decide for themselves what the correct call should have been.

3. Herrera missing the next game could be costly

Speaking of yellow cards, Herrera picked one up Sunday and will be suspended against the Galaxy due to accumulation.

Herrera’s yellow wasn’t questionable. When he made the tackle and was carded, he knew right away he deserved it. He may have also known the consequences.

Herrera is RSL’s best option at right back. Without him, Juarez is going to have to do some tinkering. He’s put Justen Glad there already this season, and it hasn’t worked too well. Maybe he tries something else if he decides to play Glad at his natural center back position. Time will tell.

But the bottom line is right now is not the time for players to be suspended for avoidable decisions like a hard tackle that could lead to a yellow card, especially when players know how many cards they have going into a game.

And Herrera is not only one of RSL’s best defenders. He’s also proven to be an effective playmaker in the attack with his accurate crosses into the box. RSL will miss that.

If lady luck decides to grace RSL with her presence Sunday, Herrera’s absence won’t matter. But she’s been pretty absent at many RSL matches this season.

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