By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SANDY, UTAH – Real Salt Lake is known for starting fast at home, so the Seattle Sounders concentrated on surviving those early minutes before taking their chances later.
That worked well enough to keep them even into the second half, when RSL made them pay for a couple of defensive errors and held on for a 2-1 win before a sellout crowd of 20,483 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game going in,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought we managed the game pretty well in the first half. We know they like to put teams under a lot of pressure the first 30 minutes. I thought we sustained that. We had some good counter chances as well.”
The result moved Salt Lake (11-4-9) to the top of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference standings, one point ahead of the Sounders (13-7-2) who have two games in hand.
“We were really up for it,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “We were excited for the game and we felt like this was a huge opportunity that we earned. It was up to us to take advantage of that.”
RSL piled up some solid chances early, but Seattle held them off until the 53rd minute. Then RSL goals-leader Joao Plata beat Seattle’s Lamar Neagle to a free kick sent into the box by Luke Mulholland and headed it in.
Four minutes later, Mulholland was the target of a pass threaded between midfielder Osvaldo Alonoso and defender Leo Gonzalez. Alonso went down to try to clear it, but instead toed the ball into his own goal.
“I think the first goal was more important than the second,” Schmid said. “Obviously there was that little five-minute span where we took the two goals. But the first goal was the one that – when you’re tired a little bit after playing the game on Wednesday; third game in six days – then that one takes the air out of the balloon a little bit.”
On top of the workload was piled mid-80-degree heat and 4,450-foot elevation. But the Sounders began dictating the pace after falling two goals down.
They got one goal back in the 72nd minute, when Chad Barrett finished a sequence of chances that had begun with a Kenny Cooper a pass into the box. Clint Dempsey ran it down, but goalkeeper Nick Rimando darted out to block the shot. The rebound went to reserve midfielder Andy Rose, who knocked it off the crossbar. However, the next rebound went to Barrett, and he sent it into the net.
Seattle had other chances as the game wound down – the best a tightly angled Barrett shot that rolled across the goalmouth in stoppage time. But when that rolled wide, the Sounders’ last best chance went with it.
“I just think the game being (in the early afternoon) takes a lot out of both teams – the heat and everything — it was going to be a slow type of game,” Dempsey said. “And for us coming here and dealing with the altitude, try to manage that first half so we could make a push in the second. Obviously you don’t want to concede two goals. We tried to fight back, but we didn’t have enough to make it happen.”
Seattle played without All-Star forward Obafemi Martins, who was serving a red-card suspension, and starting midfielder Marco Pappa, who did not travel due to a hamstring injury. Midfielder Brad Evans suffered a hamstring injury in the first half and was replaced by Rose for the final 45 minutes.
The Sounders returned home immediately after the match, part of another quick turnaround that will return them to league play at 7 p.m. Wednesday when the San Jose Earthquakes visit CenturyLink Field.