COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — On a different night, the goalkeeper might have guessed wrong. Or the two open headers would have found the back of the net. Or someone — anyone — would have poked the ball away from the opposing forward in the box.
None of those things happened for Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, though, and the result was a 1-0 road defeat to a young and injury-plagued Colorado Rapids side.
"I just really felt like the whole group was a foot and a half off — without the ball and with the ball," said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. "It's that last foot and a half of commitment that is oftentimes the difference between winning and losing … For whatever reason, I thought our guys just lacked a little bit of that extra energy that was needed tonight."
The regional rivals played a wide-open game before a paid attendance crowd of 15,226, with plenty of chances for both teams and both pushing forward all night.
Starting well and coming out aggressively were the talking points for Real Salt Lake going in after the formula worked in last week's 2-1 win over Seattle at home.
But it was the Rapids who struck in the fifth minute with a goal created by their highest profile off-season acquisition, former U.S. men's national team forward Edson Buddle.
Buddle played his accustomed holding role after being served a ball in the box. He backed down RSL defender Nat Borchers, drew two other swarming defenders, then slid the ball over to an unmarked Atiba Harris, who scored easily with his left foot.
"Last week, we win that ball there," Kreis said. "There's enough players around there that somebody sticks their foot in and makes an all-out commitment and wins the ball there. But we didn't do it. We were close. But close wasn't good enough tonight."
A chance to equalize came minutes later after midfielder Kyle Beckerman drew a foul in the box. Forward Alvaro Saborio, back in the lineup after missing time with a knee injury, was the easy choice to take the penalty kick. He had been 12-for-12 from the mark for RSL.
Saborio's shot was pushed off the right post and out of danger by first-year goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who just a few weeks ago was the Rapids' third-stringer at the position.
"I feel bad because I know if I score the penalty, it's a different game," Saborio said.
It would prove a frustrating night for the Costa Rican forward. Saborio missed two open headers and found space to fire a shot just outside the box that sailed into Irwin's arms.
Rookie second-round draft pick Devon Sandoval started up front beside Saborio, with forward Robbie Findley out with a strained left adductor.
RSL (2-3-1) controlled possession for 60 percent of the game. Several short pass combinations showed promise but the final touch was lacking.
Now, Real Salt Lake finds itself in a hole against the Rapids (1-3-2) in the race for the Rocky Mountain Cup, the regional trophy RSL has won for six straight seasons.
The Rapids have the advantage in the season series after Saturday's win and a draw earlier in the season in Sandy — and the final leg of the rivalry will again be in Colorado.
"We've won here before," Beckerman said. "We're just going to have to come and try to win here in that third game and we'll get it. But for the most part, we want to be at the top of the table. We're not really concerned with Colorado."