He’s got a history against Seattle, and you could see it from the beginning. He was ready to make that PK call as soon as there was contact in the box. It’s tragic that he had to make that decision and change the game — because goals change the game. —RSL defender Nat Borchers
SEATTLE — Real Salt Lake knew days like this were inevitable.
As the club raced out to a 12-game unbeaten streak at the beginning of this 2014 season — a feat only accomplished by three other teams in Major League Soccer history — RSL players and coaches repeatedly pointed out that they knew they would be defeated at some point.
That “some point” turned out to be Saturday afternoon.
With no clouds in sight on a sun-drenched day in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Sounders gleefully handed RSL its first loss of 2014.
Gonzalo Pineda scored a highly disputed penalty kick near the end of the first half to put the Sounders in front, and Marco Pappa, Chad Barrett and Obafemi Martins all added goals in the second half as Seattle convincingly beat Salt Lake 4-0 Saturday afternoon in the much-anticipated battle of No. 1 and No. 2 in the MLS standings.
“It just wasn’t our day,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar, who suffered his first defeat as the club’s head coach.
At the end of Saturday’s proceedings, which were contested with both sides missing players because of the upcoming World Cup and RSL opting to keep some players off the artificial surface at CenturyLink Field, Seattle moved five points clear of Salt Lake atop the standings, though RSL does have a game in hand.
Very ironically, the man responsible for arguably putting the Sounders on the path to victory was referee Ricardo Salazar.
The veteran MLS official, who was taunted by Sounders fans with chants of “Salazar sucks” when he officiated a game here between RSL and Seattle two years ago, has a long history of giving decisions against Seattle.
On this occasion, however, his choice to point to the spot near the end of an evenly balanced first half put the Sounders in front.
Seattle crossed the ball into the box from the right side in the 41st minute, and it was headed down by Barrett into a dangerous position. It appeared RSL had dealt with the danger when RSL defender Nat Borchers got his head on the ball and it rolled toward RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
However, just as Attinella started to clutch the ball, Lamar Neagle poked it away. Neagle and RSL defender Aaron Maund jockeyed for the ball, with Maund’s shoulder connecting with Neagle’s shoulder as Maund touched the ball with his foot and Neagle tumbled to the ground.
Salazar quickly pointed to the spot, and — despite the strong objections from several RSL players who believed Maund’s challenge was completely legal — Pineda calmly dispatched the ensuing penalty kick into the left side of the net.
Seattle never looked back.
Pappa scored a majestically taken free kick seven minutes into the second half, and the Sounders added two more goals to coast to victory.
Afterward, Borchers didn’t try to hide what he thought of the PK call — and Salazar’s decision to award the free kick that led to Pappa’s goal.
“They were gifted two goals by Ricardo — no question about that,” said Borchers.
“I think we’ll all agree that it’s not a PK,” Borchers added. “It’s tough. I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of pretty good bounces this year, and so you have to expect a few bad ones. But you expect the bad ones to be a little closer to the right side than a blatantly obvious not a penalty kick.”
Given Salazar’s long history with Seattle, Borchers was asked whether it was difficult to have to play with the veteran referee in the middle.
“It was really tough,” Borchers said. “He’s got a history against Seattle, and you could see it from the beginning. He was ready to make that PK call as soon as there was contact in the box. It’s tragic that he had to make that decision and change the game — because goals change the game.”
“The PK certainly changed the game in Seattle’s favor,” fellow defender Tony Beltran added.
The Sounders took full advantage in what was ultimately a four-goal victory.
“I think we still showed some fire and some fight. I don’t think they’re as good a team as 4-0 against us — two gifts as goals,” said Borchers. “(People are going to say) they’re the best team in the league, and they’re not.”
On this day, though, they were certainly able to prevent RSL from breaking the MLS record for longest unbeaten start to the season. RSL would’ve broken that MLS record by winning or drawing Saturday’s match, but instead the club joins three other MLS teams in sharing the mark at 12.
With the defeat, RSL drops to 6-1-6, and the club faces a quick turnaround to try to turn things around.
After losing for the first time this season, RSL next has a midweek game for the first time this season — Wednesday night at Columbus.
Responding to a disappointing day will be paramount on RSL’s mind after tasting defeat for the first time in 2014.
“I don’t enjoy it,” Cassar said when asked to sum up losing for the first time as RSL’s head coach. “I don’t want it to happen often, but we knew it was going to happen. It was a fantastic run that we went on, but I’m trying to make sure our team is going to react the same way I am, where it’s, ‘OK, we have work to do. Move on to the next game.’ ”
ENDLINES: RSL stars Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio (who injured his foot this week and will be out for “three to four months”) were all away with their national teams Saturday. Seattle’s Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin also missed Saturday’s match. They’re with the U.S. team as well. RSL opted to not play defender Chris Schuler because of the turf at CenturyLink Field, Cassar said. Standout striker Joao Plata “is looking like he’s going to come back,” Cassar said. Plata missed Saturday’s match because of a hamstring injury.