MLS: RSL, Chicago Fire game ends in a tie

By By Tim Haslam and By Tim Haslam

By Tim Haslam

Real Salt Lake (0-0-1) showed signs of improvement from last year on Saturday against the Chicago Fire (0-0-1) but ultimately fell into old habits by allowing a late goal, which resulted in a 1-1 draw.

“For me, there was one soccer team on the field. We played all the soccer, to be honest with you,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. “Chicago came in negatively, sat in and tried to make things difficult for us. But I think our guys played a great game tonight.”

RSL had several opportunities to score in the first half but failed to convert. The best chance for RSL in the first half came on a ball played over the defense. Chicago defender Bakary Soumare mistimed a tackle which left RSL forward Fabian Espindola wide open for a one-on-one play with Chicago goalkeeper Jon Busch. Espindola hit a solid ball, but the shot sailed just over the cross bar.

The first goal of the game came in the 71st minute on a cross from RSL midfielder Dema Kovalenko, who had been substituted into the game only moments earlier. Kovalenko pushed up the right side of the field and sent a cross in toward the middle of the penalty box. Soumare tried to clear the ball from the penalty area but couldn’t get enough force on the ball to lift it above the net. Busch was helpless as the ball found the back of his net for an own-goal.

The first win for RSL on opening day was thought to be within the grasp for RSL fans and players alike.

“We thought we had three points in the bag,” said RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman.

However, in the 92nd minute, Chicago pushed up the side of the field and sent a cross into the middle. After skipping through several defenders, RSL was able to poke the ball out, but it landed right at the feet of the Chicago captain, Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco took one step and nailed a shot from 18 yards out. The ball sailed into the top left corner of the goal, just past the outstretched hands of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

“In the end, all it takes is a special player and a special goal,” Kreis said.

The biggest question on the minds of RSL fans coming into the match was if all of the off-season roster movement would pay off. It did.

Defensemen Nat Borchers and Ian Joy were the only two off-season acquisitions who started the game, and they both impressed. Both players bullied their way into winning balls and intimidating the Fire attack. The RSL defense only allowed eight shots, two of which were on goal.

“Borchers and (Mattias) Mantilla had very strong matches,” said Kreis. “I feel defensively we were quite good.”

Forward Kenny Deuchar, who arrived in Utah on Thursday night from Scotland, came into the game in the 73rd minute and won every header that came his way.

RSL will look to extinguish any reminiscence of last season when it heads to Los Angeles on April 5 to take on Chivas USA.

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Lennie Mahler