Sandy • For a Real Salt Lake team that had only lost once in its previous 10 games, the opportunity presented Saturday night to earn a result against the league-leading Los Angeles FC was unmistakable.
From the moment of kickoff, RSL’s players were flying. They fought for loose balls. They made borderline miraculous saves and blocks to prevent goals. They kept Carlos Vela, Major League Soccer’s leading scorer and assister, at bay.
Even both fanbases were in postseason form. And it only took two bad plays for RSL to fall 2-0 to LAFC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Interim head coach Freddy Juarez said LAFC forced RSL into a pace of play where his team had to make quick decisions and have quality behind those decisions. And in the second half, that really came back to bite RSL.
For 15 minutes, RSL was up a man after Walker Zimmerman picked up his second yellow card and was ejected from the game. Real, however, weren’t able to capitalize during that stretch.
“It’s just unfortunate that when we had a man-up advantage, we didn’t take advantage of it,” Juarez said. “That’s where we .. can look at ourselves and say, ‘That’s where we failed today.’ ”
The empty 15 minutes were followed by a penalty conceded in the 62nd minute by defender Aaron Herrera, who received a red card for denying an obvious scoring opportunity. Vela buried the penalty and from there, the game flipped.
Kyle Beckerman said being a man up perhaps led to RSL “pushing too hard to get that goal right away” instead of tiring out LAFC by keeping more of the ball.
The second tough play was giving up a goal to Adama Diomande in the 82nd minute. Diomande was wide open on the left side of the 18-yard box when he received a pass from Lee Nguyen. Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando lifted both palms toward the sky as if to ask his back line what happened on the sequence.
Two unfortunate plays. That was all that separated the best team in the league from a team that had recently been playing like one of the best teams in the league. That was all it took to snap RSL’s three-game winning streak.
The fact that RSL was able to not concede any goals in the first half was somewhat remarkable. LAFC took five shots from inside the 18-yard box and wasn’t able to put any of them away, largely because Real’s defense didn’t let them.
In one sequence, Rimando saved Diomande’s shot from close range. The rebound went in the air and both Diomande and RSL center back Nedum Onuoha got a foot on it. It appeared that Onuoha accidentally hit the ball toward goal, and Rimando had to quickly dive to prevent the own goal.
But Herrera’s penalty, which he committed as Vela was trying to find enough daylight to get off a shot, turned the game on its head.
That would have been the only blemish on what was a hard-fought game to that point, but Diomande’s late goal let the air out of the building and the team as well.
Despite the loss, RSL stayed in fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
“Nothing to put our heads down [about],” Beckerman said. “I think the guys were disappointed in tonight, but we’re ready to put it past us and get on to the next one.”