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I just wish the referee would be positive. I went up to him after the game and asked ‘are you sure about that call,’ and he said ‘pretty sure.’ It’s a PK in the box in a big game. You need to be sure. —RSL coach Jeff Cassar

SANDY — It only salvaged a draw out of the fiasco, but Real Salt Lake showed life that’s been missing for a while Saturday night at hostile Rio Tinto Stadium.

In danger of losing for the fourth time in five matches after a very, very suspect penalty kick call, Joao Plata helped rescue his side with a clinical finish in the 81st minute as Real Salt Lake rallied for the 1-1 draw against visiting Vancouver.

It wasn’t a chippy, heated match to begin with, but that changed in the second half after the “phantom” penalty call. Six of seven yellow cards were handed out after Darren Mattocks’ PK in the 72nd minute gave the visitors a surprising 1-0 lead.

Nat Borchers appeared to get the ball when he dove at Vancouver striker Darren Mattocks in the 72nd minute, but the ref determined otherwise despite vehement protests from Borchers and 20,265 fans.

RSL coach Jeff Cassar was dumbfounded by the call.

“It’s not a PK. It’s 100 percent not a PK. Just watched it again,” said Cassar.

“I just wish the referee would be positive. I went up to him after the game and asked, ‘Are you sure about that call?’ and he said, ‘Pretty sure.’ It’s a PK in the box in a big game. You need to be sure. You can’t be almost right on these calls. Maybe in the middle of the field you can get away with that. Not a PK. It changes the game, it changes the momentum.”

Mattocks calmly buried the penalty past master shot-stopper Nick Rimando for the upset-minded Whitecaps. At the center circle before the ensuing kickoff, several Vancouver and RSL players got into a shoving match and the yellow cards started flying.

The dust-up seemed to serve as extra motivation for Real Salt Lake to push for the equalizer.

A loss would’ve dropped RSL into fourth place in the Western Conference, but Plata bailed his team — and perhaps the ref — out with a left-footed cannon in the 81st minute past Vancouver 'keeper David Ousted on an assist from Kyle Beckerman.

The goal was Plata’s eighth of the season and snapped a stretch of 418 straight minutes without a goal in the run of play.

“It was a fantastic ball right in stride. Joao took it nicely, cut in, great finish. That’s what we need, great pass that leads right into a nice shot. I felt our passing was just a little bit off tonight. That final ball was just a little bit off,” said Cassar.

There were flurries in the final nine minutes plus six minutes of stoppage time in which RSL came close to bagging a second, but like most of the night it struggled to hit the target as only four of 16 shots were on frame.

“We need that little bit of extra brilliance in the attacking final third, whether it’s a better final pass, whether it’s a better shot. We’re just lacking that little bit at the end,” said Cassar.

There were certainly dangerous opportunities for RSL in the first half.

Javier Morales whipped a free kick on frame in the third minute that Ousted narrowly pushed over the crossbar. Morales sent another free kick into the mixer in the 25th minute, but like it did the entire half, Vancouver simply had too many bodies in the box and dealt with the danger.

It was a theme all night.

The Whitecaps were content to drop numbers behind the ball defensively and hope to catch Real Salt Lake in transition. The approach didn’t produce much in the opening half hour, but late in the first half Mattocks’ speed started to stretch RSL’s back line and Vancouver capitalized by whistling three shots just wide of the post.

After halftime, RSL settled back down with its possession, putting the Whitecaps on their heels. The breakthrough didn't come, however.

In the 57th minute Cassar tried sprucing up the attack by inserting Luke Mulholland and Robbie Findley into the match in place of Luis Gil and Devon Sandoval.

“After we made a couple changes it injected some energy, a little bit of threat in behind and opened up the midfield space. It was much more attractive in the second half,” said Cassar.

For Findley the appearance was just his third of the 2014 MLS season as he’s slowly worked himself back from offseason surgery and then some nagging injuries along the way.

The draw helps Real Salt Lake remain in second place in the Western Conference, tied with FC Dallas.

RSL returns to action next Thursday at home against the Montreal Impact.