Sandy • Real Salt Lake seems to have an issue with teams that are eliminated from playoff contention.
RSL lost 4-3 to the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in a game it needed to at least draw to gain a bit of breathing room in the Western Conference playoff race. The Earthquakes were already out of the playoff picture entering Saturday’s game.
RSL lost to two other bottom-dwelling teams in recent weeks — the Chicago Fire and Austin FC. Both of those losses came on the road. The club did, however, get a huge road victory over FC Dallas, which is the second-worst team in the conference.
Here are three takeaways from RSL’s loss to San Jose.
1. A collapse and last gasp
RSL started the game going at the Earthquakes as if the Bay Area team owed it money. It controlled possession, much of it in the attacking third. It created opportunity after opportunity after opportunity, which eventually led to a goal by Albert Rusnák from Damir Kreilach, and didn’t stop after that goal.
But as the first half wore on, RSL’s influence was less and less felt. The Earthquakes tied the game, then Chris Wondolowski took the lead.
Rusnák said it was “individual errors that ended up being collective errors” that led to RSL’s loss against the Earthquakes.
“It just kept adding up and adding up and then that’s how they scored their goals,” Rusnák said.
In the second half, RSL didn’t create much going forward and gave up two more goals as a result of poor defending. RSL had eight shots from inside the box in the first 45 minutes compared to four in the second.
Salt Lake is a feisty team, though, and has been throughout the latter part of this season. Maikel Chang and Rusnák scored late goals, but the team ran out of time and fell at home for the first time in the Pablo Mastroeni interim era.
“At the end it was an open game, it was up and down,” Rusnák said. “Who knows? If there’s five [or] more 10 minutes left, maybe we’ll tie the game. But that wasn’t the case.”
2. RSL unhappy with officiating
The Earthquakes committed 20 fouls and were shown four yellow cards. It was a chippy and physical game throughout by both teams, but it certainly seemed like San Jose wanted to make its presence felt in a specific way.
To that end, Mastroeni wasn’t happy with the way the game was officiated.
“I felt we were playing against 14 individuals on the field,” Mastroeni said. “I felt like there was a lack of consistency in the way the calls were going.”
Mastroeni pointed to one sequence in particular when Rubio Rubin appeared to be fouled just outside the 18-yard box but no call was made. Wondolowski scored off a corner kick shortly after that, which gave San Jose a 2-1 lead and momentum going into halftime.
Mastroeni said getting results has more to do with effort or tactics.
“You have to have breaks, and I think tonight, they [San Jose] had a lot of breaks from an officiating standpoint,” Mastroeni said.
3. No more games in hand
One of the biggest advantages RSL has had in the last couple of weeks is the fact that it had played fewer games than their Western Conference competition. If a result didn’t go RSL’s way, at least there was comfort in the idea that they had more time to right the ship than others.
Now, that’s not the case. RSL has two games left in the season, which is the same number as every team that is still fighting for a playoff spot. The club will have to truly watch the scoreboard and might no longer be able to say phrases like, “We control our own destiny.”
“We had it, up to his moment, all in our hands and depending on the other results, it may be still in our hands and it may not be,” Rusnák said.
RSL has one home game left — Wednesday against the Portland Timbers, a team Salt Lake has been chasing for that fourth spot in the conference that would allow a home playoff game in the first round. After that, they go on the road to play Sporting Kansas City, which is fighting for the top seed in the conference.