Through much of the first half (and part of the second), it looked as though Real Salt Lake would gift the Fire their first victory of the season because of a poor defensive performance. Instead, the Claret-and-Cobalt responded with three unanswered goals in the final 21 minutes of the match to escape Toyota Park in Chicago with a massive comeback and three points in tow.
Chicago opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. The Fire’s Harrison Shipp received a pass from Benji Joya at the top of the 18-yard box with plenty of time to face goal. The RSL defense failed to close Shipp down, and his well-struck shot forced Nick Rimando into a tricky save. Rimando unfortunately gave up a rebound, and a goal-poaching Mike Magee beat defender Nat Borchers to the ball to tap it home.
Juan Luis Anangono doubled the home side’s advantage nine minutes later. Chicago’s Greg Cochrane found space in the left corner, and his perfectly floated cross found Anagano unmarked at the top of the six. Anangano headed the ball well outside of the reach of Rimando, who had no chance of stopping the shot.
In the meantime, RSL was unlucky not to find the back of the net. Fire keeper Sean Johnson stoned Alvaro Saborio twice and Joao Plata once in the first half to preserve the clean sheet in the first half.
Magee almost tallied another goal in the 63rd minute, when the striker got behind Borchers on a long ball. His driven shot from twelve yards was slightly deflected by Rimando before slamming off the crossbar and ricocheting back into play.
RSL started its comeback in the 72nd minute. Javier Morales picked out Plata unmarked at the top of the 18. Plata had plenty of time to turn and pick his spot at the near post, beating an outstretched Sean Johnson. Saborio added the equalizer only seconds before stoppage time, taking Abdoullie Mansally’s cross—which mystically passed through three Fire defenders—and toe-poking the ball into the top corner of the goal.
The away side sealed the win three minutes into stoppage. The heroes once again were Plata and Saborio, as the former knocked in the latter’s cross at the back post for the win.
The victory pushes Real Salt Lake to 4-0-5 (17 points), good for second in the league behind a surging Seattle Sounders. With the loss, the Chicago Fire fall further into the Eastern Conference basement, winless at 0-2-6 (6 points).
- After seeing three wins turned into draws by late goals this season, Real Salt Lake finally found itself on the right side of a comeback. I’ll admit to tweeting that it felt good to be on this side of a draw around the 90th minute. Clearly I should have been more ambitious.
- On Plata’s winning goal, it looks like Joao was a half-step offside. That would seem to mean that RSL may have picked up two extra points thanks to an officiating error. This balances nicely with the two points RSL may have lost last week against Vancouver due to an almost identical error:
Tonight, RSL's universe karmically balanced itself after last week. pic.twitter.com/ok6kckUW0u
— Heath Waddingham (@RSLTotalMLS) May 4, 2014
- After the team’s late-game troubles early this season, I imagine Saturday’s comeback win will do a world of good. So much of closing out games is mental; if you think you’re going to blow a lead, you tighten up and frequently make that bad dream come true. Losing leads in a third of your early games can lead to that negative mindset. So coming back from 2 goals down so late in a game should give the team a much better mental image going forward.
- With Mike Magee’s blast off the crossbar, RSL opponents have now hit the frame eight times this season. Seven of those have bounced back into the field of play, with only one deflecting into the goal. That rate seems to defy chance (although I can’t say for sure).
- With two goals Saturday, Joao Plata has five goals and two assists on the season in only six games. Getting him from Toronto was a real steal.
- Last week, Saborio made an aggressive play that resulted in a turnover and Vancouver’s equalizing goal. This week, Sabo showed that he learned his lesson. With less than a minute left in stoppage, Sabo received the ball near midfield with a chance to turn upfield and advance toward Chicago’s goal. Instead he held up, maintained possession, and passed the ball back to an open teammate, opting for control over glory. The result was an uneventful few seconds before the whistle blew and Real Salt Lake walked off the field as victors. He made the right decision at the right time.
- Next week’s match against the Houston Dynamo could serve as an early benchmark for the rest of the season. Real Salt Lake has never defeated the Dynamo in Houston with an all-time record of 0-8-1. Coming away from BBVA Compass Stadium with a result would be huge for the team.
- Comeback wins create fond memories. For me, this match possibly tops my previous favorite, a stoppage time comeback win on the road against the Portland Timbers in 2012.
- Last thought: yes, RSL is undefeated. Yes, they do have a lot of ties. But it’s worth noting that every other team in MLS has at least 2 losses.