SANDY — Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio found the back of the net in his return to the pitch, but a late defensive lapse cost his club three points against Chicago on Saturday night.
Saborio, who missed five games with a quad injury, came on as a substitute and scored in the 78th minute, but Quincy Amarikwa equalized for the Fire six minutes later as RSL was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in front of 18,293 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"We really wanted to clean things up defensively this game in terms of allowing our opponents chances, and I thought we did that," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "I thought we came out with a lot of energy and doing what we do at home, but to not get the three points is disappointing. I can't say anything more than that."
Saturday's first half was very similar to RSL's May 4 match against Vancouver, with RSL controlling possession and having its fair share of attempts on goal during the first 45 minutes.
Kyle Beckerman gave the Claret and Cobalt its first opportunity of the night in the 22nd minute, firing a shot on frame after collecting Ned Grabavoy's back-heel in the box.
"Ned was really effective in the first half," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "I think he's been contributing in all the right ways and all the right spots, and hopefully it continues."
Joao Plata nearly took advantage of a one-on-one opportunity with Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the 28th minute, but Plata's shot at the far post was parried away by Fire 'keeper.
Just minutes later, Robbie Findley took aim on goal with a beautiful left-footed finesse shot at the top of the box — only to be denied yet again by Johnson.
Johnson's heroics kept RSL off the board in the first half, as he recorded four impressive saves in the first 45 minutes.
"(Johnson) had some great saves," admitted Grabavoy. "He played well without question and kept them in the game."
RSL came out in the second half as the aggressors, which wasn't a huge surprise given the missed opportunities in the opening 45 minutes.
In the first 10 minutes of the second half, Findley, Plata and Chris Wingert all had decent looks on frame. Wingert took a left-footed attempt at the top of the box, but a diving Johnson managed to deny the goal on the line.
After failing to find the net, Kreis opted to send Saborio into the game in the 62nd minute. It was the Costan Rican's first night on the pitch since April 20.
"I think it was an emotional uplift. The crowd was very happy to see him, as were we," said Kreis. "I was relieved."
Saborio's impact was nearly instant.
After attempting a tricky chip shot over Johnson in the 67th minute, Saborio buried the go-ahead goal with a header into the back of the net in the 78nd minute. The forward took a perfectly weighted cross by Ned Grabavoy to beat the Chicago 'keeper.
"When Sabo's in there I feel like you've got to try and put it up there," said Grabavoy, who was bright throughout the entire game. "He goes and finds the ball, and can snap it. It's a great goal."
RSL was sitting comfortable as the final minutes ticked away at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Then — for them — the unfortunate happened.
Off what Kreis said was a "foul" throw-in, Amarikwa netted the equalizer for Chicago with a high, right-footed shot from close range.
"I'm trying not to get myself in too much trouble or put myself up for too much chastisement, but hell with it, I will. For me, that's a foul throw. I've been saying that for the last two years — that a lot of these long throw-ins that we're seeing now, are frankly just foul in my eyes," said Kreis.
"I just think it's ugly. I think if you are going to throw the ball in long, you need to do it legally with both hands."
RSL faces a quick turnaround this week, as the club hosts the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday before hosting San Jose on Saturday.
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