Real Salt Lake Rollercoaster Continues


Jack Gambassi

Real Salt Lake midfielder, Albert Rusnak (11), in the match vs. Houston Dynamo at Rio Tinto stadium in Sandy, Utah on June 26, 2021. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


In the thick of the playoff hunt, with opportunities to pick up points growing more scarce by the week, Real Salt Lake looked to continue a run of home field excellence on Sept. 18 against the Seattle Sounders, and took a trip to Portland for their second match of the season against the Timbers.

Before facing Seattle, RSL (10-10-6, 36 points) sat in sixth place in the conference with a chance to vault as high as fourth with a couple of victories and an LA Galaxy loss. 

Real vs. Seattle (1-0)

RSL used a strong defensive presence, limiting Seattle to nine total shots and two on-frame attempts while extending its unbeaten streak to six at Rio Tinto Stadium with a 1-0 victory last Saturday. 

A slow developing first half of play saw RSL consistently probing, trying to find the best attack against a strong Sounders backline. Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the first 45 minutes and scoring chances were at a premium.

RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni said of his team’s defensive game plan, “one of the things that we talked about before the game is that we have to win the midfield and minimize their options in the wide channels. The overall theme was ‘we cannot take a play off.’” 

In the 48th minute Damir Kreilach found himself on the head end of an Aaron Herrera pass from near the end line, sending it into goal past Sounders keeper Stefan Frei.

Postgame, Kreilach spoke about the importance of the win during a difficult stretch of games. “Commitment, mentality, character and everything,” he said. “At the end of the day we were rewarded with great results. Tonight was something special. In front of our fans and my brother and his family, to get three points — it means a lot.”

Real vs. Portland (1-6)

Sitting in fifth place in the conference, RSL had a golden opportunity to steal a game on the road from the Portland Timbers, who are fourth place in the West and only one point ahead of Real. Instead, the crimson and cobalt fell flat, allowing six goals in a Timber rout.

Falling behind 2-0 early, Kreilach took advantage of a Portland misplay, scoring for his team-leading twelfth time this year, cutting into the Timbers’ lead before both teams headed to the locker room at halftime. 

Entering the second half trailing by a single goal is anything but insurmountable. Unfortunately for the RSL faithful, the defense failed in the final 45 minutes. The Chara brothers, Yimmi and Diego, scored the first two second half goals, putting Portland up 4-1 with more than 20 minutes still to play.

Portland would go on to add two additional goals in the 85th and 88th minutes, burying RSL and sending a statement to a young team trying to find its footing. 

RSL defender Justen Glad was asked about the team’s performance against a strong Portland counter-attack. “It was tough,” he said. “Obviously they capitalized on a lot of transitions. I think that comes down to shape behind the ball, not being in the proper shape. Then on the mental side of the game, knowing when to foul, knowing when to end a play early. The ball seemed to just squeak out of every tackle right to them and they would go and get a goal. It was tough.”

Back on the Pitch

With nine games remaining in the regular season and RSL currently seventh in the West, Real is trying to hold on to a playoff spot with three teams nipping at their heels, just three points behind. This is a critical stretch for RSL as they need every point possible to hold on in a deep conference.

Real returns home Wednesday night against the LA Galaxy as they look to extend a six-home-game unbeaten streak. This will be the third match between the two teams this season; the Galaxy came out on top 1-0  in early August after a 2-2 draw in late July.


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