Real Salt Lake’s Lone Star Curse persists, as they remain winless in 21 matches in Texas (against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo), but if the current trend continues, that dubious achievement may fall in the near future. In last night’s 1–1 draw and last season’s 0–0 draw, RSL claimed their first two points in Dallas after ten straight losses.
Both teams came off of Saturday losses, Dallas falling 1–0 at Vancouver despite controlling possession and just about ever other stat category, RSL losing 3–1 at San Jose with Espíndola and Olave getting sent off. Suspensions and injuries forced both sides to field makeshift starting XIs, with Kevin Hartman and Blas Pérez the most notable absences for Dallas.
RSL was the sharper side in the opening ten minutes, generating a few good chances for Álvaro Saborío and his strike partner Paulo, Jr., requiring one good save from Dallas GK (and former RSL man) Chris Seitz. Dallas began plugging passing lanes and applying good pressure in RSL’s half—an approach that worked for Sporting KC against Salt Lake—and were rewarded with the better chances in the first half. Fabian Castillo looked the most likely to break through with a speedy run in the 19th minute, but Nick Rimando leaned correctly toward the back post and smothered Castillo’s bouncing effort from eight yards.
RSL finally surrendered in the 45th minute. A Tony Beltran clearance ricocheted off teammate Chris Schuler’s heel and grazed Beltran’s left arm. Referee Geoff Gamble pointed to the spot, giving rise to the all the usual rhetoric surrounding unintentional handballs—“The ball played the hand!” “But his arm was extended!”—that’s as fruitless as it is tireless. Brek Shea sent Rimando the wrong way on the penalty kick and Dallas carried their lead into the locker room, along with a 9–2 edge in shots.
Kreis committed his team to attack after the break, rather than staying the course and hoping for success with the RSL slow-build. Ned Grabavoy freshened up the midfield, speedy rookie Emiliano Bonfigli replaced Paulo on top and Kyle Beckerman began playing further and further up the pitch. The tactic paid off as RSL’s passing sharpness returned and possession swung back in their favor (they finished with 60% of the ball on the night).
The tying goal came from a sequence in the 72nd minute that showed their uptake in possession. RSL moved the ball from the edge of Dallas’s box, back to the halfway line and then quickly up the middle, where Will Johnson turned and chipped blindly to Bonfigli. The Argentine deftly knocked the ball down as he split George John and Ugo Ihemelu, striking it low and hard past Seitz with his left foot. An attractive finish to a string of eight passes in 30 seconds: Javi Morales to Beckerman to Schuler to Beckerman to Nat Borchers to Beckerman to Johnson to Bonfigli.
Bonfigli made the most of what was essentially his RSL debut (ignoring a one-minute cameo against Colorado), nearly adding an assist five minutes after his goal. He played Saborío through on a long breakaway, but one cutback too many gave Seitz an opening to pounce. Sabo’s always been more of a goal-poacher than a forward who creates his own chances, and, as always, he looked stronger when he laid the ball off and drifted into open spaces than he did with the ball at his feet.
An early bit of promise for RSL fans, the team has now come from behind in four games this year, winning at L.A. and Portland, losing to San Jose at the death, and tying Dallas. The Dallas game was especially positive because a less mature team could have dwelled on the question penalty call right before half (only four days after what many consider an unjust dismissal of Olave), but RSL seemed even more focused in the second half.
Will Johnson summed it up well when asked about the Beltran penalty: “We put it behind us pretty quickly and we knew we’d get some chances. You control the things you can control and you hope these things balance themselves out over the season.”
RSL takes on Toronto at home on Saturday and Dallas welcomes Colorado on Sunday. Real Salt Lake will only get one more chance to break the Lone Star Curse this season, at Houston September 6.
(image courtesy of Getty Images)