In soccer there are times when the most dominate team on the field is for some reason just a half of step off their game and ends up the loser of the match. So it was for Real Salt Lake on Saturday night as their pressuring offensive attack largely controlled the game, but victory was thwarted by visiting Chivas USA’s stout defense and a opportune goal late in the second half.
Entering the game RSL seemed to have every advantage. They possessed one of the deepest/most talented teams in the MLS and opened their season with two convincing victories over the LA Galaxy (3-1) and New York Red Bulls (2-0). Real was facing a Chivas team that is in rebuilding mode, had lost their first two games, failing to score a goal in either. Additionally, RSL had the home field advantage of 20,415 raucous fans, not to mention playing in a stadium where they seldom lose.
But as the old adage says…they play the games for a reason.
From the outset it was clear that Chivas’s defensive strategy was one of attempting to slow the game and create frustration amongst the ranks of Real’s players by way of hard play and countless ground hugging injury feigns. The strategy might have been for not, had an early goal for RSL been disallowed due to a restart technicality as called by the head referee Mark Kadlecik.
Yet that disallowed goal set a pattern of frustration for Real players, one that would gradually grow with every passing minute on the clock.
Early charges and goal attempts led by forwards Paulo Jr. and Fabian Espindola either missed their targets or were thwarted by Chivas’s goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. The entire first half had the feeling that Real was on the cusp of breaking the game wide open and crushing Chivas’ opposition with a single goal.
However, that goal never came and the teams entered the half deadlocked at 0-0.
Having already set the match’s tone, each team ramped with the intensity during the second half, especially Chivas who began a slugging match against Real players. In what at times resembled more of a hockey game with players being taken out or “slammed into the boards,” Chivas’ defense gave rise to the air of trepidation in the crowd as onlookers wondered if the superior home team would ever break through the lines and score.
When Chivas’ Casey Townsend scored in the 72nd minute on one of the team’s 3 shots on goal for the entire match, this anxiety transferred itself to the players of Real.
Encouraged by the home crowd though, RSL’s offense found a new gear in the final 20 minutes pressuring their way up the field in search of a face saving equalizer. However, shot attempt after shot attempt ended up being just barely off target or blocked by the steadfast play of Chivas’ Kennedy in front of the goal.
Kennedy, who had endured the worst from the RSL fans, turned out to be the rock behind Chivas’ defensive performance, incessantly repositioning defenders and making the timeliest of saves. Its little wonder that the goalkeeper was the team’s MVP in 2011.
And as the game ebbed into 5+ minutes of extra time Kennedy did his best at interrupting corner kick after corner kick from RSL as well as eating up precious seconds during goal kicks…some much so that he received one of the four yellow cards given to Chivas by head referee Kadlecik.
In the end not even the super-human/honorable efforts of Espindola could change the fact that the night seemed predestined for a Chivas victory.
As Real Head Coach Jason Kreis pointed out in his post-game press conference: “We were half a step off for the entire game…We had the majority of the possession. We were the more attacking minded team. We were the more dangerous team. On a different night we win that game by multiple goals…Tonight the defensive minded team won.”
While the 0-1 loss to Chivas was certainly a bitter pill for Real and its fans, Kreis emphasized that he was not disappointed with the team’s overall performance only the game’s outcome.
The question going forward is can RSL find a way to regain their solid goal scoring footing when the team travels next Saturday to Portland to play a Timbers team which is 1-1-1 this season in a stadium which is a tough on visiting teams?
Observations/Notes from the Game:
- The Supporter groups of RSL fans put forth a fanatic verbal fiesta of choice words and phrases directed at Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. While none of them seemed to rattle Kennedy’s performance, I did appreciate one young lady’s taunt of: “I’ve got your Milk and Cookies right here Kennedy.”
- Forward Fabian Espindola had scored goals in each RSL’s first 2 games along with 5 shots on goal. Though his short streak of consecutive games with a goal score ended, he was Real’s MVP of the Game, seemingly everywhere on the field, making life miserable for Chivas’ Kennedy, and surviving a body check into “the boards” that might have knocked other players out.
- With last night’s victory Chivas USA is now 10-7-4 all-time against Real Salt Lake .
Sights and Sounds from Real Salt Lake vs. Chivas USA:
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