Frank Yallop was on the right end of a number of these games two years ago, withn his San Jose Earthquakes using its tendency toward late match heroics to win the 2012 Supporters’ Shield. On Saturday night in Bridgeview, Ill., however, Real Salt Lake gave Yallop a dose of his own medicine, using late goals from Álvaro Saborío and Joao Plata to complete their comeback. Two goals down entering regulation time’s final 18 minutes, RSL came back to claim a 3-2 victory, maintaining the defending Western Conference champions’ place as the league’s last unbeaten team.
The win comes in the face two months’ results that saw Real Salt Lake drop eight points from winning positions, including losing a 2-0 lead late last week against visiting Vancouver. With the win, however, new head coach Jeff Cassar remains unbeaten in Major League Soccer, the team’s 4-0-4 record leaving it unbeaten in 12, going back to last year’s playoffs.
Perhaps as important, in the long run: RSL not only answered any questions of a mental block about their late game performances, but they turned the notion on its head. Cassar’s team came back from two down to claim full points from a good Chicago team.
That this Chicago team is in fact good will be disputed, given their record. At 0-2-6, the Fire’s detractors have a point. But just like the rest of their performances, the Fire left Saturday’s match able to point at a series of silver linings.
For much of the game, they looked like an average (at worst) team, not a group lodged at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Even without the suspended Quincy Amarikwa, the team generated two early goals. In midfield, the Fire were able to compete with the vaunted RSL diamond. All trends were pointing in the right direction.
But just as they did over the season’s first two months, the defense let Chicago down. They failed to get tight on João Plata as the Ecuadorian cut the lead to one from just inside the penalty area. In the 90th minute, Bakary Soumaré seemed to close his eyes and tuck his chin trying to head a Abdoulie Mansally cross, missing a ball that allowed Saborío to finish from close range. Two minutes later, Saborío was given too much room to curve a perfect, left-footed cross to the far post, allowing Plata to run onto this second goal of the match.
You could pick apart any goal like in that manner — identifying what the defense could have done differently — but RSL’s first two goals were particularly egregious. Plata was allowed to take a touch and turn on a ball in the middle of the field, with neither the defense nor destroyer Jeff Larentowicz close enough to close him down. And on Saborío’s goal, an individual error brought RSL even. Soumaré has to clear that ball.
That he didn’t meant Chicago was destined to stay winless. When, two minutes later, Real Salt Lake flashed the type of execution that made them MLS Cup finalists a year ago, the Fire couldn’t even claim a point from yet another near miss.