EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Real Salt Lake's longshot playoff aspirations came to an official mathematical end Saturday night a reality that's been inevitable for months despite everyone's insistence otherwise.
Nonetheless, the club has quietly put together some impressive performances the past two months, and that trend continued with RSL's 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium.
"We did enough to win the game ... I thought we did a lot of good things tonight," said RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman, whose team is 4-4-3 in the past 11 matches. "In different circumstances, if it's early in the year we'd be happy with (the tie)."
Instead, knowing that only a four-game winning streak and many other favorable results around the league could produce a playoff berth, blowing two separate leads against the Red Bulls and settling for the draw was a tough pill to swallow.
RSL keeper Nick Rimando prefers to see the positive in that trend.
"There's positives there because it's a tough place to play, and we're going up, and that's a positive thing, we're not chasing the game," said Rimando.
The negatives, giving up a goal early in the second half and then a penalty kick late in the game, can't be ignored though. Asked whether perhaps his team is still adjusting to playing with the lead after being so bad for so long this year, RSL coach Jason Kreis refused to use that as an excuse. In reality, surrendering 20 shots and 13 of them on goal, RSL might've been lucky not to surrender more goals.
"To me, it was simply a few miscues and poor finishing," said New York coach Bruce Arena. "We had a chance to score more goals than we produced tonight."
Real striker Chris Brown opened the scoring in the 22nd minute as he headed in a lofted cross from Chris Wingert. Rimando made a fantastic save on New York star striker Juan Pablo Angel just before the half to keep the scoreline at 1-0 heading into the locker room.
It was a short-lived lead after the intermission.
New York equalized at 1-1 just a few minutes into the second half as Joe Vide turned RSL defender Matias Mantilla in circles in the box before banging in a low driven shot off the post.
Less than a half hour later, when it looked like RSL's stagnant attack couldn't possibly produce a winner, Beckerman knocked in a cross from second-half substitute Fabian Espindola to pull Real back in front 2-1.
Salt Lake didn't play with the lead for long.
Five minutes after taking the lead, and two minutes after Mantilla redeemed himself by clearing two would-be goals off the line, New York equalized on a penalty kick by Juan Pablo Angel his franchise record 17th goal of the season.
The foul was called on Carey Talley following a mad scramble in the box, a penalty that was protested vehemently by the players on the field.
"We felt we deserved it, and it kind of got taken from us," said Beckerman. "It's frustrating."
RSL had two fantastic opportunities down the stretch to regain the lead, the first on a breakaway by Espindola in the 86th minute and the second by Atiba Harris in the 88th minute, but neither could finish.Real returns to action at home this Saturday when it hosts West-leading Chivas USA.