Battle-tested: RSL keeps game close but misses opportunities
Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News
When you're playing one of the best teams in the world, you better not waste your chances and you better not take a red card.
Real Salt Lake succeeded at neither.
No doubt a heavy underdog with European power Real Madrid in town, RSL missed out on several quality first-half scoring opportunities, and when substitute Atiba Harris was red-carded early in the second half, that was all she wrote.
A first-half penalty kick by Ruud van Nistelrooy and a dominating second-half performance by Robinho was more than enough to help Real Madrid earn the result everyone expected, a 2-0 victory in front of 45,511 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"It's just a great atmosphere," Real keeper Scott Garlick said. "This is what it should be like every week. With a new stadium, it's going to replicate this on a smaller scale."
It's tough to replicate David Beckham, however, and many fans were probably puzzled why the English superstar wasn't in the starting lineup. Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello is pacing his players through their six-week training camp, and Beckham eventually entered the game in the second half, much to the delight of thousands of screaming fans.
While those fans were no doubt thrilled to get their Beckham fix, they had to be impressed with their local team.
Despite Real Madrid's lofty reputation, Real Salt Lake went after the win. It could've easily sat back and let Madrid dictate the pace, but it did just the opposite.
"The thing I've learned in international soccer, they let you play," RSL midfielder Andy Williams said. "They don't press the issue. We just had to be smart and choose the time to press forward, and I thought we did a good job in the first half."
In many ways, RSL did a great job. After playing a little shell-shocked the opening 15 minutes, it settled down and actually possessed the ball for decent stretches of the first half, creating several opportunities as a result.
RSL's best opportunity of the half came in the 29th minute as Chris Klein's shot outside the box forced Madrid keeper Iker Casillas to make a diving save. The rebound trickled directly to Jason Kreis, who quickly turned and fired a shot only to have it cleared off the line by defender Sergio Ramos.
At the other end, Real Madrid enjoyed long stretches of possession as well, and on several occasions Garlick came up with big saves to keep the score level at 0-0.
Shortly before halftime, the referee made a decision that changed the complexion of the game.
Real Madrid went ahead in the 45th minute on a Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty kick, his first career goal in his new Spanish club uniform. The penalty was awarded when RSL defender Willis Forko dragged down Madrid forward Cassano in the box. After the game, Williams said, "MLS refs, what are you going to say?"
The ref made another major impact early in the second half, but he realistically had little choice.
As well as RSL played in the first half, Harris all but dashed any hope of a comeback when he committed a reckless challenge on Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos and was quickly red-carded in the 58th minute.
Williams acknowledged that it was a stupid challenge, but he would have liked the ref to show a little more restraint.
"It's an exhibition game, it's not a league game, not a cup final," he said. "It should've been at least a yellow, but not a red."
It's tough enough to play against one of the most expensive clubs in the world 11 on 11, but it's virtually impossible 10 on 11.
"With 11 on 11, we acquitted ourselves pretty well," Garlick said. "When you go down a man it makes for a different game."
Not surprisingly, Real Madrid tacked on its second goal six minutes later as Brazilian rising star Robinho knocked home a precision van Nistelrooy through ball. Amazingly, it wasn't even Robinho's best moment.
In the 51st minute, he reminded everyone why Real Madrid is one of the best clubs in the world and Real Salt Lake is an average club in Major League Soccer. He made a fool of RSL defender Kevin Novak with a brilliant step-over move near midfield, and then tacked on two more impressive moves to free himself up for a shot that went directly to RSL back-up keeper Jay Nolly.As the second half wound down, both teams started making mass substitutions, as both teams began resting their players for future games.
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