SANDY — Over the past two years, Real Salt Lake has turned Rio Tinto Stadium into an impenetrable fortress for visiting MLS teams.
Those walls came crashing down Saturday night.
Real Salt Lake's 29-game MLS home unbeaten streak came to a stunning end, as visiting Seattle capitalized on a second-half red card to Jamison Olave to pull away for the 2-1 victory.
After the match, RSL coach Jason Kreis praised his team's fight and spirit after playing down a man for over 30 minutes, but that was little consolation to Will Johnson.
"You can try and spin it however you want, down a man and all that stuff, but at the end of the season when you look back no one's going to remember that. They'll just remember you lost the game," said Johnson.
It was RSL's first league loss at Rio Tinto Stadium since falling to Kansas City 2-0 on May 16, 2009.
Since its memorable 2-2 draw in Monterrey on April 20, Salt Lake is 1-3-2 over its past six matches with just two goals scored.
"We're a bit unsure of ourselves individually and collectively right now," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy.
Kreis was encouraged by what he saw during stretches of Saturday's match, but that all changed in the 58th minute. After slipping near the top of the box, Olave resorted to dragging down Seattle striker Mike Fucito instead of conceding a one-on-one opportunity with Nick Rimando.
The ref quickly showed Olave his first red card since 2009.
"For me, it's not a red card. I've seen that call made so many times in this league, and it's only been a yellow if not just a free kick," said Nat Borchers.
The Sounders failed to convert the ensuing free kick, but it wasn't long until they broke down the stingiest defense in MLS.
Without Olave, RSL shifted Robbie Russell to center back and then inserted Chris Wingert into the match for Jean Alexandre as the team shifted to a 4-5-1 formation.
RSL did well to defend with only 10 men for a while, but Seattle eventually got on the board in the 71st minute, as Patrick Ianni scored off a corner kick. Nate Jaqua won the initial header, with the ball deflecting off the shin of teammate Fredy Montero directly to Ianni, who scored from two yards out.
Five minutes after going down 1-0, there was nothing left for RSL to protect defensively, so Kreis inserted Nelson Gonzalez into the match for Robbie Russell and only played with three defenders.
RSL had a flurry of chances in the 79th minute, but couldn't capitalize.
Seattle eventually took advantage of RSL's depleted back line in the 84th minute, as Lamar Neagle uncorked a shot from distance that dipped just over Rimando and under the cross bar for the 2-0 lead.
To RSL's credit, it never quit fighting.
"In some strange way pleased with a lot of the play, with the fight of the guys, with the mindset to keep going, to never quit," said Kreis.
In the 88th minute, second-half substitutes Gonzalez and Luis Gil combined on a nifty goal that Gonzalez finished off to whittle the deficit to 2-1.
With three minutes of stoppage time remaining, it looked as if the Rio Tinto Stadium magic might actually help the home team salvage an improbable tie. RSL had a few sniffs at the goal, but nothing that forced Kasey Keller into making a save — even though he came up big all night with five saves.
"Really proud of the way we battled back, we're not a team that gives up. Maybe other teams would throw the towel in, but we didn't give up. We were in it up to the end. It just shows how much fight we have in this team," said Borchers.
The rare loss dropped RSL's record to 5-2-2, and it now trails Western Conference leader Los Angeles by 12 points. RSL has played six fewer matches, but that deficit is going to be very difficult to make up considering its current form.
Life without injured all-star midfielder Javier Morales is proving to be very difficult, as Salt Lake is 0-1-2 since he went down with a broken ankle.
Kreis was particularly pleased with the play of Fabian Espindola, who had missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury.
"I think he had a really good match for us tonight, was looking to take chances, wanted to be on the ball and make things happen," said Kreis. "We need more players that want to do that right now.
"In my opinion, we got too many guys who are OK with letting somebody else do the job or take the responsibility, or have the final pass or take the shot. We need more guys to step up and say I'm going to do it."
RSL will look to start a new streak at home next Saturday when it hosts expansion Vancouver.
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