Loss pushes RSL to elimination brink
Without Clint Mathis and Jason Kreis in the lineup, the Real Salt Lake struggled to create any real attack for most of Sunday's 2-1 to FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park.
Ecuadorian Roberto Mina struck twice for the Hoops -- in the 17th and 52nd minutes -- which was all it took as Real could only muster a goal from Texas native Jamie Watson in the 54th minute.
The man of the match went to Mina but the guy who worked the hardest was RSL 'keeper D.J. Countess, who had 23 shots to deal with over the course of the match. Real had just six shots for the match, going almost nearly the entire first half before getting their first.
"We're still alive [in the playoff hunt] and that's why tonight was really important for us to come out here and get a result on the road," said Countess. "We've been working hard, we're doing a lot better in practice the training sessions have been great.
"And obviously I think our effort has been there, but at the end of the day we're just not getting the final result, and that speaks for itself."
Real's recent Liberian acquisition, Melvin Tarley, was effective at times in the first half as the lone striker in John Ellinger's 4-5-1 scheme. His touch sometime let him down but his nose for goal is undeniable.
"He's been solid since we picked him up," said Ellinger. "I think someone stepped on his toe or something so that's why he came out of the game. We put a little pad under it, so I think that's why he wasn't able to turn and push but he was fine coming back for the ball. But after that he didn't have that burst that he had in the first half."
Watson made good on his trip back to his Dallas hometown, scoring a neat flick-on header from a corner kick in the 54th minute to pull Real back within a goal.
"It's awesome. This is home for me -- always has been," said Watson. "Getting on the field I was a little nervous, a little excited. I've been waiting for this and fortunately one of the guys on the corner headed it to me and I was standing in front of [FC Dallas goalkeeper] Scott [Garlick].
"I think Scott was kind of waiting to see where I was going to go with it and I was able to flick it by him."
Watson came up through the U.S. under-17 national team program -- where he was coached by his current RSL boss.
"I don't know if I would be getting as many chances with any other coach in the league," Watson said. "Ellinger has seen what I can do, he's seen me at my best and my worst so he know how to motivate me and push me to play more so than any coach I've ever had. I'm actually thankful because it probably worked out the best playing-wise."
The loss puts Real behind the 8-ball for the playoffs as they sit 12 points back of Colorado with just six games remaining.
"The key game for us is Wednesday (vs. Colorado in Denver)," said Ellinger. "We have to close the gap with Colorado, if we don't then they're 15 points clear with five games to go.
"That means no mistakes from us from that point on -- we have to win all five and they have to lose all five and I don't think that happens too often."
Scott Joiner is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.