In his pre-game analysis, Real Salt Lake broadcaster Brian Dunseth said that RSL needed to put together a complete 90 minutes. After RSL was ahead 2-0 Dunseth mentioned that Vancouver was capable of scoring quickly.
Clearly, Dunny can see the future.
In spite of a scorching start and comprehensive first half, Real Salt Lake slipped into a defensive posture after the break, and two quick goals in the final ten minutes once again meant that RSL had dropped points in a match it was on the verge of winning, drawing with the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-2.
RSL could not have asked for a better start. Before the game was even two minutes old, Chris Wingert played a ball toward Luke Mulholland, who gently redirected the ball toward the Vancouver end line. The pass freed Joao Plata into the box, and Plata, who was back in the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury over a month ago, beat Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted with a well-placed shot to the far post.
Only seven minutes later, a marvelous buildup culminated with Ned Grabavoy receiving a pass at the top of the Vancouver 18. Grabavoy maneuvered through four Whitecaps defenders before dropping the ball at the feet of an open Alvaro Saborio, who hit a bending ball first time over Ousted’s outstretched arms for the home side’s second goal.
The RSL chances didn’t end there. Kyle Beckerman’s shot from 25 yards in the 22nd minute sailed just wide, and just moments before halftime, Plata once again snuck behind the Whitecaps defense only to have his shot from 7 yards saved by Ousted, who did well to come off his line and cut down Plata’s shooting angle.
But RSL came out in the second half more content to defend. The squad’s final quality chance of the match came in the 80th minute, when Javier Morales’s free kick found the head of Saborio 6 yards from goal. The flicked header beat Ousted but hit the crossbar, bounded off the goal line, and glanced off the far post before bouncing away.
The game turned suddenly in the 86th minute when Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks played a shot directly at Nick Rimando. Rimando saved the shot easily but uncharacteristically fumbled the ball. The rebound fell directly to Nicolas Mezquida, who tapped it in the visitors.
The dagger came on the final play of stoppage time. In the 94th minute, RSL appeared to have gained decisive control of the ball and could possibly have run out the clock, but a heavy touch by Saborio resulted in a turnover near midfield. The ball rolled to the feet of Vancouver midfielder Sebastian Fernandez, who promptly turned and fired a shot from 35 yards out. The ball could not have been struck much better, bending around RSL defender Chris Schuler before knuckling underneath a diving Rimando.
After a game that left such a bitter taste in the mouths of both players and fans alike, RSL must now turn its attention to the Chicago Fire in advance of Saturday’s showdown at Toyota Park.
- The build-up to RSL’s second goal was a delight to watch. In a lot of ways, it represented the passing and creativity for which Real Salt Lake has come to be known. After a Vancouver half-clearance was cut off by Chris Wingert, the ball moved as follows: Wingert to Plata to Saborio to Morales to Tony Beltran to Morales to Mulholland to Beltran to Grabavoy to Saborio to the back of the net. The ball was switched quickly from the left side of the midfield to the right side before a clever flicked header by Mulholland freed Beltran down the right wing. Beltran’s cross found Grabavoy at the top of the 18. Grabavoy’s strength and control really showed on this play, as he dribbled through four Whitecaps defenders before laying the ball off to Saborio for the curling goal.
- In the 42nd minute, Joao Plata got tangled up with Whitecaps defender Steven Beitashour. In real time, it looked like Beitashour might have thrown Plata down. After looking at the replay, it appears there was very little malice in what little contact occurred. Beitashour might have intentionally stepped into Plata’s path, but Plata also appeared to go down quite easily. Regardless, the crowd showered Beitashour with boos each time he touched the ball for the remainder of the match.
- A rough 57th-minute tackle by Kekuta Manneh on Luke Mulholland earned the Gambian forward a yellow card. His tackle looked like it could have received more: the tackle was from behind, and Manneh essentially jumped directly into the back of Mulholland’s legs. I doubt Manneh meant to do anything malicious on the play, and as Brian Dunseth noted on the RSL broadcast, Manneh appeared to recognize the dangerous nature of his tackle and tried to hold up. Nevertheless, Mulholland could have been injured badly on the play.
- Mezquida’s opening goal for Vancouver was likely offside. But wrong calls will happen, and ultimately, when an offside call is close, assistant referees should give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker. It’s too easy to criticize an AR with the benefit of a freeze frame and a line drawn across the field. Still, it’s unfortunate to have an officiating mistake affect the outcome of a match.
- It’s easy to put blame for the last Vancouver goal on Saborio for his turnover, but I really can’t say enough about the excellence of Fernandez’s shot. His knuckling ball appeared to change directions in flight. Rimando could possibly have done better with the shot, but talk about a picturesque of power and movement.
- On a lighter note, a blue star balloon found its way out onto the pitch around the 71st minute:
— Heath Waddingham (@RSLTotalMLS) April 29, 2014
It floated gently down the pitch, drawing a crescendo from the rapt crowd as it neared Nick Rimando’s goal. The balloon ultimately struck the crossbar and deflected over the goal; the crowd groaned in disappointment.
(image courtesy of Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)