FRISCO, Texas — Real Salt Lake couldn’t take advantage of a golden opportunity.
Playing with a man advantage against FC Dallas in the showdown between the two hottest teams in Major League Soccer, RSL could’ve vaulted itself into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference and MLS Supporters’ Shield standings.
Instead, 10-man Dallas trumped Salt Lake and forced a three-way tie atop the West.
Je-Vaughn Watson and Fabian Castillo both scored second-half goals as 10-man FC Dallas overcame a controversial red card just before halftime en route to a big 2-1 win over RSL at Toyota Stadium Friday evening.
“I don't think we were really exceptional in anything tonight," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. "We just weren't good enough."
Friday’s hotly contested contest — literally and figuratively — leaves RSL, Dallas and Seattle in a three-way tie atop the Western Conference standings with 42 points. Seattle, which plays against rival Portland Sunday, has two games in hand on both RSL and Dallas.
The West's three top teams are all tied with Sporting Kansas City in the race for the MLS Supporters' Shield.
To Real Salt Lake’s credit, the club tried to attack Dallas in the sweltering heat — and it never gave up.
After falling behind 1-0 five minutes into the second half — the result of a corner kick that ultimately went off Watson’s chest and into the net — Cassar decided to take off defender Chris Wingert and bring on striker Olmes Garcia in a 3-4-3 formation.
"Obviously, defending the set play, giving up a goal from a dead ball situation, can really change the tide of the game," said Cassar. "We felt we were in a good position, had a mental lapse on a set play then from there we were chasing the game."
Over the course of the next 20 minutes following Watson's opener, RSL enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but struggled to create many clear-cut opportunities.
It ultimately paid the price in the 71st minute.
Dallas hoofed the ball upfield, and it fell into the path of Castillo on the right side. Dallas’ deadly goal-scorer blasted the ball past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando from a tight angle and just inside the left-hand corner of the net, giving the short-handed Hoops a coveted two-goal advantage.
Down 2-0, RSL continued to attack and pulled a goal back in second-half stoppage time when Garcia’s overhead kick found the back of the net after fellow substitute Sebastian Velasquez crossed from the right.
However, Dallas held on to take the three points from RSL.
As it played out, the Hoops managed just fine despite losing forward Blas Perez to a red card at the end of the first half. Perez was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for what referee Ismail Elfath deemed "unsportsmanlike behavior by embellishing contact" in the wake of Perez's altercation with RSL defender Chris Schuler.
"Dallas is a team that going a man down might have helped them," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "They just have so much speed up top, and they really play the counter. We felt like, even though we went up a man, we still had to be wary of their danger, and it's just unfortunate we gave them a set-piece goal."
With the win, the Hoops extended their unbeaten streak in MLS games to 10 games while ending RSL's six-game unbeaten streak.
It won’t take long, though, for RSL to get another shot at beating them. After playing at San Jose next weekend, RSL will host Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sept. 6.
"We get a rematch at our place, so hopefully we can respond well next week and stay with the pack that seems to be getting out up front, and get another crack at Dallas in Salt Lake and see if we can do better," said Beckerman.