COMMERCE CITY, Colo.— Real Salt Lake saw its two-game win streak come to a close with a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park Saturday night, and with the loss RSL missed out on a chance to claim sole possession of first place in the MLS Western Conference.
Salt Lake had already wrapped up the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup with two wins at Rio Tinto earlier this season, but the loss — RSL's first to Colorado since May 2009, a span of eight matches — dashed 13-8-3 RSL's hopes of clearing idle San Jose for not just the top spot in the conference, but MLS as a whole.
"I think [the Rapids] just wanted it so bad," RSL coach Jason Kreis said, referring to the Rapids' six-game losing streak entering play Saturday night. "We've been in difficult patches where you just haven't had the result that you've wanted for a long time and you're just doing everything you can to get your body in front of things and make tackles and plays in the defensive third of the field. That's what [the Rapids] did tonight."
Colorado's Joseph Nane scored the game's lone goal — the first of his career — in the 38th minute on an 18-yard blast that banged off the bottom of the crossbar.
RSL managed only one clear opportunity on net early in the first half on striker Justin Braun's header, but otherwise the visitors struggled to break down a physical Rapids back line.
Salt Lake nearly conceded off the bat in the 12th minute when Nane's booming shot from the top of the penalty box went off the top of the crossbar and clear.
But the visitors saw their best chance of the match come a few minutes later. Jonny Steele's 15th-minute cross picked out a wide-open Braun, and only a leaping highlight-reel save from Rapids 'keeper Matt Pickens kept the game scoreless.
Later in the opening half, the Rapids collected the game's lone goal.
Rapids right back Drew Moor's centering cross was met by Colorado's Jaime Castrillon, and the Colombian's header deflected off RSL defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and right to the top of the penalty box, where Nane's shot bounced off the bottom of the crossbar and in for the 1-0 Rapids lead.
"I think (the goal) came off of a throw in," RSL defender Tony Beltran said. "It went toward the back post and (Castrillon) got over me, he hit the crossbar and deflected out and (Nane) took a good shot. We were kind of leaving (RSL keeper Nick Rimando) stranded there so I should have won that ball on the back post."
Despite the deficit and the introduction of striker Fabian Espindola at the break, RSL failed to muster much in the way of opportunities in the final 45 minutes. The Rapids nearly scored several times in the second half — Castrillon's 68th minute shot went off the post, and his 74th minute header required a neat diving save from Rimando. Salt Lake managed only one shot on goal all match and looked the inferior team throughout.
"You can see that a few guys needed a rest," Kreis said post-game. "We've got to be mindful of that as we go through the last part of the season.
We've had some experience before where we've worn our guys out, so to speak, and then we get to the playoffs and we don't have enough energy to do what it takes."
Salt Lake narrowly won the possession battle 51-49, but Kreis' squad struggled to turn those chances into scoring opportunities, managing only four total attempts on goal, two in each half.
Real stays on the road to battle the Vancouver Whitecaps next Saturday night at BC Place before coming back to Rio Tinto Aug. 18 for a key clash with FC Dallas.