Real Salt Lake continues to make questionable decisions on defense. Last week the club was bailed out by an under-performing New England Revolution squad overplaying the claret and cobalt–resulting in two penalty kicks which RSL converted to win.
This week, however, at the StubHub Center in sunny Los Angeles, RSL would receive zero favors from the referee–which resulted in an ugly, 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Saturday, July 12.
More about the referee in a minute, because he was the main reason RSL couldn’t get out of La La Land with a result. But the bugaboo that has afflicted the club for over a month–or lackluster defense–came back and reared its ugly head Saturday on one play.
What made this play interesting is that it didn’t happen late, or even at the death of the match. It happened in the 20th minute–a space and time when RSL’s defense rarely allows goals. The earliest goal RSL had allowed in months had come in the 35th minute against Portland in a 3-1 loss in June.
The breakdown occurred after midfielder Javier Morales slumped to the ground after colliding with LA midfielder Marcelo Sarvas. No foul was called, and tactically, RSL opted not to play the advantage.
In hindsight, it was a poor decision to play on and the Galaxy took advantage of being a man up momentarily. In possession of the ball, Sarvas dribbled forward down the right wing, sending a ball into a congested area where Landon Donovan was jockeying for possession with RSL defender Chris Wingert.
Instead of taking a touch from what was a rather heavy square pass from Sarvas, Donovan let the ball squirt through his legs into space for onrushing LA forward Gyasi Zardes who was bounding towards the top of the 18-yard-box.
Normally this is a situation when an RSL defender–or even holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman–cuts out the pass. But the quick counterattack and Zardes’ size and touch were enough for him to ward off RSL defenders at the top of the box.
Zardes spun to his left and uncorked a shot that hit the near post and clanked into the far post and in for a 1-0 lead. If it seemed lucky, it was–but LA had a lead over its rival.
“I’m not sure how it got to Marcelo [Sarvas]. I ran through the middle, I knew Gyasi [Zardes] was coming with me so I let it run. He took a touch, their defender did a good job getting near him, but Gyasi [Zardes] was strong, fought the guy off and it was a fantastic, fantastic finish,” Donovan said at the post-game press conference.
The rest of the game was a stalemate. Real Salt Lake and LA both came out in a 4-4-2 diamond formation Saturday and went at each other from the opening whistle. The top of the box was a talking point the entire night–primarily because both teams’ wings didn’t give an inch and there was space to be had up the middle.
So Beckerman–who played behind Morales in the diamond–had room to move around. He had a golden opportunity to level in minute 29, deftly maneuvering past LA defenders near the top of the 18, uncorking a knuckler that LA goalie Jaime Penedo could only deflect with his chest. A rebound attempt by RSL was fruitless.
LA forward Robbie Keane tried to do his part to extend the lead, but the only thing he was doing Saturday was pounding his fists into the grass in frustration.
RSL nearly tied the game in the 62nd minute on a play similar to LA’s goal. Countering a miscue by LA, RSL defender Tony Beltran raced down the right wing and into the LA end, lacing a cross into the box which forward Devon Sandoval dummied, leaving it for teammate Joao Plata.
Plata’s shot was a howitzer but Penedo parried it wide for a corner kick, ending RSL’s best threat–unless you count the one that referee Silviu Petrescu mucked up in the 85th minute.
With five minutes to play, and RSL relentless on the attack, defender Chris Wingert went up for a ball served into the box off of a corner kick. LA midfielder Juninho appeared to be trying to clear the ball out of danger but also kicked Wingert in the face.
Petrescu, a referee who has shown just 11 red cards in his Major League Soccer officiating career, did nothing. So, instead of being saved by another penalty kick, RSL came full circle in two weeks time–learning the same lesson that the Revs absorbed last week a Rio Tinto Stadium. You cannot live and die by a referee.