SANDY — Poised for a victory that could've done wonders for its confidence moving forward, Real Salt Lake let a it slip away on Saturday night.
A questionable penalty kick decision by the referee Terry Vaughn in the 83rd minute no doubt played a part in the 1-1 draw with D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium, but so did RSL's own late game management.
Leading 1-0 after a first-half penalty of its own, Real Salt Lake seemed well on its way to a victory with D.C. generating very little going forward. A counterattack was about the only thing that could've hurt RSL, and strangely it left itself open to the danger.
On a free kick 40 yards from goal, RSL center backs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave both pushed into the box for Andy Williams free kick. No doubt trying to finishing the game off with a second goal, RSL left itself exposed at the back and a speedy Charlie Davies and Fred ultimately led to the penalty kick decision from Vaughn.
"We can talk all we want about the penalty, but I'd rather talk about how it gets there," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, who declined comment on the actual penalty kick. "You don't want to open yourself up to a counterattack when you have a 1-0 lead off a dead ball that's yours."
Davies seemed to embellish the challenge in the box from Chris Wingert, and the referee bought it immediately by pointing to the spot.
Davies stepped up and buried the penalty — D.C.'s sixth of the season — to stun the crowd of 16,841.
"It's a shame we lost two points on that play because it wasn't even really close," said Wingert.
As much as the tie stung afterward, RSL's lack of killer instinct made it possible.
Despite enjoying the better of the play throughout most of the second half, it struggled to generate scoring opportunities despite the possession and ultimately the 1-0 lead didn't hold up.
The tie was RSL's second straight, and it's now winless in three straight.
"The game was there for us to win and we didn't put it away," said Beckerman.
Ironically enough, RSL was probably lucky to even escape with a tie after D.C.'s Chris Pontius banged a shot off the crossbar — his second of the game — in the 93rd minute. A foolish foul at the edge of the penalty area by Jamison Olave set up the opportunity.
Just as it didn't finish the game off well, Real Salt Lake didn't start well either.
D.C. United did a good job disrupting what Real Salt Lake wanted to do in the opening 25 minutes and was clearly the better team early.
"I didn't think we were good enough with the ball, I thought we kept giving them away cheaply, uncharacteristically again," said Kreis.
RSL finally settled down in the latter portion of the first half, and was rewarded for its possession in the 38th minute when D.C. midfielder Clyde Simms was whistled for a handball in the box after diving in for a tackle on Beckerman.
The ball hit Simms' hand while it was planted on the ground, and Fabian Espindola gladly stepped up and buried the penalty kick to put RSL in front 1-0. The goal was Espindola's third in his past four matches.
RSL could have put the game away in the first half as Collen Warner breakaway opportunity was wasted. A very poor first touch got away from him and drifted right to D.C. keeper Bill Hamid.
The struggling Warner was replaced in the 66th minute by Will Johnson, who made his first appearance since returning from international duty with Canada in the Gold Cup.
It wasn't the return result anybody was expecting.
"I think we have to be very disappointed to have kind of the three points wrapped up and then to give away the counterattack and then be at the mercy of the referee's decision," said Kreis.
RSL, which now trails Los Angeles by 12 points in the Western Conference, has a quick turn around with a game at Chicago on Wednesday.
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