No Major League Soccer team has lost more games the past two seasons than Real Salt Lake. Saturday's 1-0 setback to FC Dallas may be the toughest of them all.
In the dying minutes of stoppage time, when a third straight 0-0 draw at home seemed inevitable which in reality would have been a good thing against the West's top team RSL started to let up.
Dallas substitute Abe Thompson made RSL pay with an impressive 93rd-minute strike in which he slipped past defender Eddie Pope and then dribbled around keeper Scott Garlick before burying the game-winner before a stunned crowd of 20,227 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"This loss sucked, plain and simple," said RSL coach John Ellinger.
Real midfielder Carey Talley took it a step further and said, "That's probably the most disappointed I've ever been. For us to fight like that, and the team to fight like that, and have good opportunities. I know we're trying to win, we want to win at home, but I don't think there's any excuse."
With RSL pressuring forward to secure a game-winner of its own, Dallas came streaking out on a counter attack, and Real simply didn't get enough defenders behind the ball.
"It was our back five against their whole team, and that doesn't do it," said Talley. "Everyone's got to come back to the middle, simply put, and help defend from the inside out."
Instead, Dallas' Kenny Cooper came racing through the midfielder unimpeded and had enough time to play a through ball to Thompson, whose fresh legs enabled him to get around Pope and then hold off Nikolas Besagno.
"It comes to extra time, you gotta defend, you can't lose," said Ellinger. "You've got to do whatever it takes to come away with a point."
It was the type of goal defenders often get blamed for, but one the midfielders should be equally held accountable for.
With the loss, Salt Lake (4-10-4) remains in last place in the Western Conference with 16 points. If it has any hope of making up ground in the Western Conference standings, RSL needs to seize the type of opportunity that was presented to it Saturday night.
With the rest of its West foes all tying this week, RSL was in prime position to make up ground against the field. Once again, however, it squandered the chance by being held scoreless for the third straight home game.
It was even more frustrating for Ellinger, because he believed his team created the better scoring opportunities throughout the game.
RSL's best scoring opportunity in the first half occurred in the 18th minute, when Carey Talley headed a Chris Klein lofted cross just wide of the left post. In the second half, Andy Williams was denied by diving Dallas keeper Dario Sala, and then Klein sent a laser about three feet wide of the post.
Garlick came up with a couple quality saves as well to keep the score level until the waning moments.
The loss compounded what was already a difficult week for RSL.
Stretched thin with a serious foot injury to Daniel Torres, Ellinger was forced to go even deeper into his depth chart on Saturday. Late in the first half Torres' replacement, Nelson Akwari, collided with Garlick just outside the box, and was forced to leave the game a hip contusion.
He was replaced in the line-up by Besagno, who was making his second appearance of the season. Back on June 9, Besagno replaced Torres when he sustained a concussion early in the first half.
Besagno more than held his own during the second half, winning several balls away from Dallas' bruising forward Cooper.
"Nik was holding his own, we as a team didn't defend for that moment and it cost us the game," said Ellinger.With the victory, Dallas (11-5-3) pulled five points ahead of second-place Houston in the West.
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