KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Real Salt Lake had the chance to settle a score Wednesday evening at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Playing against the club that had handed it its first regular-season loss ever at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL had an opportunity to even the score and hand Sporting Kansas City its first-ever loss in its first season in a sparkling new stadium.
It didn't happen. Not even close.
RSL was dominated in the first half, spotted a pair of goals late in the half, and fell 2-0 in front of an announced 18,467 Sporting KC fans.
Roger Espinoza, who wouldn't finish the game because of a careless red card, scored the first goal in the 29th minute.
Teal Bunbury inserted the dagger in the 37th as Sporting KC improved to 7-6-9 with 30 points, tied with New York for third in the Eastern Conference.
RSL, which has dropped two straight games for the first time since April of 2010 — a 44-game stretch — fell to 9-5-6 and remains in fifth in the West with 33 points.
"(Locker room morale) had better be real bad, because I know mine is bad," said a dejected RSL coach Jason Kreis, whose team held a 5-1 second-half advantage in shots on goal. "We're at a precipice of our season right now. If we lose three straight, it would be devastating."
The Sporting KC attack, one that has been instrumental in a club-record 14-match unbeaten streak, put the Real Salt Lake defense on its heels early and often through a first half which saw RSL spot its opponent two goals.
"They're a very attacking team with a lot of weapons," said RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "They put us under the gun early. If you don't keep the ball, they're going to make you pay."
The only hero for RSL throughout the half was Rimando, who was kept plenty busy dealing with Sporting KC's five shots on goal. In the game's eighth minute, Rimando, who entered the game ranked second in Major League Soccer in goals-against average at 0.78, came up big with a diving save of a header in the penalty area by Espinoza.
Nine minutes later, Sporting's Omar Bravo sent a dangerous free kick in front of the RSL goal that Rimando successfully punched clear. A minute later, he made a save on a shot by Bunbury that was rendered weak by a strong tackle by defender Chris Schuler.
There was nothing Rimando could do, however, in the 29th minute, when Espinoza stole a ball from RSL's Collen Warner, dribbled between Warner and Tony Beltran in the left corner of the box, and drilled a low shot that cleanly beat Rimando just inside the near post. It was Espinoza's first goal of the season.
"The ball came in, and I was playing the cross," Rimando said. "He just hit it near post, and it went in."
It got worse for RSL five minutes later, when a long throw-in by Sporting's Matt Besler was headed toward goal by Kei Kamara. Rimando saved that, but Bunbury was right in front to pick up the rebound and fired into the left corner.
"We've been preaching not giving up goals on throw-ins," Rimando said. "It seems like every team we play has a guy who can make the long throw-in.
"Nine out of 10 times that ball maybe bounces to one of our guys."
It marked the second straight game RSL spotted an opponent a 2-0 lead by halftime. And it got worse in the first minute of the second half when defender Nat Borchers picked up a quick yellow card for a reckless tackle.
The tide turned for RSL in the 56th minute, however, when Espinoza slid in on a tackle of Beckerman from behind and was given an immediate red card by referee Hilario Grajeda. That handed RSL a man advantage, and it almost immediately picked up its attack as Sporting dropped back into more of a defensive, counterattack posture.4 comments on this story
Saborio got RSL's first shot on goal of the night in the 73rd minute with a long strike outside the box from Saborio that goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen easily scooped. But three minutes later, Kyle Beckerman curled a free kick from just outside the penalty box that a diving Nielsen just knocked away.
That would prove to be RSL's best and last scoring opportunity. Revenge would have to wait.
RSL gets its chance to bounce back Saturday when it hosts the New York Red Bulls and their star, French midfielder Thierry Henry.