Leave it up to the reserves to save a little face.
Following an uninspired performance by the starters in the opening half, many of Real Salt Lake's reserves played a passionate 45 minutes in the second half to key a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Universidad Catolica in an exhibition game Wednesday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium in front of 8,044 fans.
"I can't remember being as frustrated all season as I was in the first half, just because of a lack of passion and desire to win. When you put players on the field in the second half who actually want to win the game, and play like they want to win a game it makes a difference," said RSL coach John Ellinger.
In the first half, that was hardly the case.
In the opening 45 minutes, RSL's revamped starting line-up played relatively disinterested soccer, and not surprisingly the team trailed 2-0 at the half.
When asked if his players perhaps didn't give the effort they needed knowing it was an exhibition game against the Chilean First Division champs' reserve team, Ellinger said, "You'd hate to think that, but if that's the way they felt then it showed," said Ellinger.
After inserting five new players at halftime, it didn't take long for the renewed passion to have an impact.
With nothing to play for but pride, a line-up that featured only three regular starters (Chris Brown, Brian Kamler, Nelson Akwari) scored three second-half goals in the comeback.
The game winner came in the 88th minute as Akwari headed in a cross from Jamie Watson. In the 77th minute, Dipsy Selolwane tied the game at 2-2 on a penalty kick that resulted from Watson being tackled in the box.
As exciting as those goals were, none was as exciting as Kenny Cutler's strike from the top of the box in the 73rd minute on a pass from Watson, even though the team still trailed 2-1.
"It's amazing if you put shots on goal, once and a while they might go in," said Ellinger.
Even though none of Wednesday's statistics count toward the official MLS stats, that didn't change the fact that Real Salt Lake hadn't scored a goal in 394 minutes prior to Cutler's tally.
RSL's last goal was in the 31st minute of a 2-0 victory over Chivas USA back on May 18.
The goal was even more of a relief considering that Leighton O'Brien hit the post on a penalty kick in the 62nd minute, and then Dipsy Selolwane had wicked shot saved by the keeper in the 49th minute. The rebound on Selolwane's powerful shot actually had enough back spin that when it bounced on the goal line, it actually spun backward giving Catolica's keeper enough time to smother it just before Dante Washington could blast in the rebound.
Real Salt Lake couldn't help but feel like it was cursed on Selolwane's near miss. Real was 0-6 on grass entering the match, and hadn't scored a goal on grass since the first half of an April 9 loss at Los Angeles.
Despite the win, Ellinger is no doubt second-guessing his line-up options for this weekend's game at Los Angeles.
Ellinger was using Wednesday's exhibition game as an experiment with a new 4-4-2 formation that had virtually every player in a new position.
He started Washington and Clint Mathis up top, while dropping Jason Kreis into an attacking midfield role. He shifted Andy Williams from attacking mid to right mid, while moving Brown from the right side to the left side.
He also experiment with Kamler at left back, and gave Nik Besagno another start at holding mid.
With the changes producing very limited production, Ellinger hinted that some more changes would be in store."You can't really abandon everything," said Ellinger, who added that "a mix of the two could work."
ENDLINES: Real (3-6-2) returns to action this Saturday when it faces the Los Angeles Galaxy (6-2-2) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Defender Eddie Pope is scheduled to rejoin the team after starting for the U.S. National Team in Wednesday's World Cup qualifying victory over Panama in Panama City.
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