There was a handball that should've been called, and it wasn't. It's the little things that are game-changers, and they just went against us today. —Kyle Beckerman
SEATTLE — Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke knew his side would be under pressure when it stepped on the artificial turf inside CenturyLink Field to face the Seattle Sounders on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the Emerald City.
“We were going to sit deeper and look to counter,” he said.
The plan almost worked.
RSL sat back, absorbed pressure, and got a ton of fantastic saves by veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando to keep the scoreline level at 0-0 throughout most of the first half.
In the end, one deflected shot made the difference between earning at least a point and getting nothing.
Seattle’s Harry Shipp was credited with scoring a goal that took a huge deflection off RSL defender Reagan Dunk, and the Sounders beat Salt Lake 1-0 in front of 40,588 fans on a picture-perfect day in the Pacific Northwest.
“A lot of good work, a lot of hard work — just came up short today,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
As it turned out, Saturday’s match between these Western Conference rivals swung on Shipp’s strike.
Rimando and Co. had repeatedly stymied the Sounders in the first half, but RSL’s star goalkeeper could do nothing when Shipp blasted the ball toward the goal in the 42nd minute. Following a Seattle corner kick, the ball pinged around the box and eventually made its way to the feet of Shipp.
From 12 yards out, he blasted a shot that caromed off Dunk and landed in the back of the net.
“It was a bit hard-done, I think,” said Beckerman. “There was a handball that should’ve been called, and it wasn’t. It’s the little things that are game-changers, and they just went against us today.”
Ten minutes into the second half, Seattle seemed to have Saturday’s match wrapped up when defender Chris Schuler hauled down Jordan Morris just inside the 18-yard box and referee Kevin Stott quickly pointed to the spot.
Rimando wouldn’t have any of it.
Sounders star Clint Dempsey stepped up to take the penalty kick, but Rimando — the guy who broke the all-time MLS saves record three days earlier and now holds every goalkeeping record in league history — dove to his left and parried the ball away.
“That’s why he’s the best in history — for me — when you put everything together,” said Petke.
Added Beckerman: “We’re just lucky to have him.”
Rimando’s penalty-kick stop and a couple of adjustments by Petke seemed to turn things around for RSL throughout the rest of the afternoon.
RSL’s new coach brought newcomer Jefferson Savarino off the bench and shifted from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, with attacking midfielder Albert Rusnak moved from the left side back to the middle.
The changes breathed new life into Salt Lake, which subsequently possessed the ball much better and created a bunch of chances to equalize.
That’s why Petke said Saturday’s defeat didn’t feel like a loss to him and his players.
“I thought they created a ton of stuff,” he said. “It seemed like some of those chances just a stiff wind would’ve blown a goal. We made so many strides in what we wanna do, who we wanna be, in this one game alone.”
Rimando agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“It’s a loss on the scoreboard, but there’s a lot of positives to take out of this,” the goalkeeper said.
After playing three games in eight days, RSL now gets a full week off before hosting the Philadelphia Union on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.