RSL frustrated at allowing late equalizer, but remain proud of strong start
The glass-half-full interpretation of Real Salt Lake's season to date is that the team remains unbeaten through six games, one of just two MLS teams that can make that claim.
The glass-half-empty interpretation is that four of those six games have ended in ties, and in all four, RSL surrendered leads. In two of those games — including Saturday's 2-2 tie in Philadelphia — Real Salt Lake have allowed a very late goal, costing them a total of four points.
“You fight all game long, and you've got to focus there at the end,” first-year head coach Jeff Cassar said in a postgame TV interview to ABC 4.
Real Salt Lake have trailed for only five minutes all season. The San Jose Earthquakes took a 1-0 lead back on March 15, only to see RSL quickly tie it.
But there are similarities between that match and the one Saturday in Philadelphia. In San Jose, RSL surrendered a 3-1 lead and lost two points when the Earthquakes' Victor Bernardez scored a 95th-minute equalizer.
At PPL Park on Saturday, Salt Lake led 1-0 and 2-1 and appeared to have the match in hand when Sebastian Velasquez won the ball at the edge of the penalty area to Javier Morales, whose cut-back set up Kyle Beckerman for a one-timer to give RSL the lead with just five minutes remaining.
But in the 90th minute, the Union's Maurice Edu met a near-post corner kick and headed it across goal inside the far post to salvage a tie for the home team.
“I think we lost a little bit of focus,” Cassar said. “Things were happening fast, and we didn't deal well with it.”
Which meant that for the second time in four ties, it felt like a loss to Real Salt Lake’s players.
“Kind of similar to the feeling of San Jose,” Beckerman said in a postgame TV interview. “You'd take a draw before the game, but then when we're [ahead] that late in the game, we'd like to take all three.”
In addition to the pretty Morales-to-Beckerman goal, RSL can point to the play of newcomer Luke Mulholland as a positive. Up to MLS after more than two years in the NASL, the midfielder scored his second goal of the young season on a play that was not as random as it appeared when he scored on the rebound of Alvaro Saborío’s saved penalty kick.
“I decided to follow it in just in case,” Mulholland said in a halftime interview. “The keeper made a save, [and I] just got fortunate that it rebounded to me, and I was able to redirect it back into the goal.”
It was more than just being fortunate. After Philadelphia defender Austin Berry fouled Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia inside the penalty area, Saborío's penalty was saved by Philly keeper Zac MacMath. Mulholland beat everyone to the ball because he anticipated the timing of Saborío's kick and was already running toward the box – without entering it – when Saborío made contact with the ball. He ended up in front of two flat-footed defenders because of that anticipation, and Mulholland finished across his body to the far post, hardly as easy as it looked.
Returning to the glass-half-full interpretation, Real Salt Lake opened the season with four of their first six games on the road and emerged with one win and three ties from those road contests. That start sets up a critical home stand, with upcoming games against Western Conference foes Portland and Vancouver.
“I think it was really important for us to get some points — pick up a win, pick up ties on the road,” Beckerman said. “That's what we can build on.”