COMMERCE CITY, Colo. Three-quarters of the MLS season remains, but Real Salt Lake definitely missed a golden opportunity at putting its stamp on the Western Conference race Thursday night.
Knowing that a victory would've pushed it to the top of the diluted Western Conference heap, RSL played an awful second half and the Colorado Rapids capitalized with a 2-0 victory at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"To be completely honest I don't think we deserve to be the first place team in this conference. We're not ready for that yet," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "Hopefully that opportunity will come again. I told the guys you have a limited number of opportunities in your life and certainly in your career in professional sports so it's very disappointing we let this slip by."
For the Rapids (4-4-0) the win upped their season total 12 points, three points clear of second place FC Dallas. As for visiting Salt Lake (2-4-2), it is now 0-4 away from Rice-Eccles Stadium having surrendered 10 goals and only scoring two. It doesn't get any easier next week with a visit to FC Dallas.
To have any hope halting its current road blues, RSL must find a way to play a complete 90-minute match. Against the Rapids, it seemed to cease playing with any sharpness or desire after halftime.
Despite the scoreless first half being fairly even, Real midfielder Kyle Beckerman said neither team was very dangerous.
"Two average teams and it was going to come to a point where whoever got the first goal was going to win the game. They got it, they were more sharp at the start of the second half and they got rewarded for it," said Beckerman.
RSL was sluggish, seemingly tired, in the second half and it didn't take long for Colorado to start racking up the chances. Midfielder Andy Williams said RSL wilted under the Rapids' pressure in the second half, and it seemed inevitable the Rapids would eventually capitalize.
They did in the 65th minute In textbook fashion. Herculez Gomez played the ball out wide to Colin Clark who took a couple touches up the left sideline in the acres of space provided before whipping the ball into the box. Colorado's Omar Cummings narrowly beat defender Nat Borchers to the ball and calmly stabbed it into the back of the net past Nick Rimando.
Trailing 1-0, Robbie Findley was inserted into the game a few minutes later but even that didn't seem to get RSL going. Kreis tried to add fresh legs again around the 80th minute, but by the time Argentine midfielder Matias Cordoba stepped onto the field RSL trailed 2-0.
Real defender Matias Mantilla was whistled for a handball in the box in the 82nd minute and Christian Gomez calmly stepped up and buried the penalty kick past former D.C. United teammate Rimando for the 2-0 lead. It was the third penalty kick surrendered by Real Salt Lake this year, with the other two coming against D.C. United a few weeks ago. Conversely, RSL has yet to earn a penalty kick this year.
Gomez's penalty kick was his only shot of the night, a credit to RSL's determination to shut down one of the best midfielders in MLS.
"When you have a player like Christian Gomez you've got to have an idea where he is at all times, Kenny (Cutler) was charged with the responsibility when we were attacking he needed to have an eye for where Christian was," said Kreis.
The fact it limited Colorado's best player for 90 minutes yet still came away empty-handed was particularly frustrating for RSL.RSL was forced to play without primary playmaker Javier Morales because of his groin injury, and his absence really limited the team's ability to push forward. Andy Williams started in his place, but Kreis believed he played too deep to be that effective in the attack.
E-mail: [email protected]