SALT LAKE CITY, Utah
7:30 pm MT (CSN-DC)
Two teams whose near future is already decided come together on the Wasatch Front, as D.C. United make their first-ever visit to Utah to face Real Salt Lake. The expansion side come into their final three games of their inaugural season riding a nine-game losing streak, three shy of the MLS record. Over the weekend, defending champion United ensured they will be able to try and defend their title; now, it's about securing home-field advantage for the Eastern Conference Semifinals, leading third-place Chicago Fire by two points with each team having three games remaining - though East leader New England Revolution are only five points ahead and have played one game more.
REFEREE: Brian Hall. SAR (bench): David Bragg; JAR (opposite): Emiliano Monje; 4th: Feliciano Palomino
MLS Career: 101 games; FC/gm: 29.4; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 27; pens: 32
Games involving Real: P2 W2 L0 T0; FC/gm: 27.5; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 1; pens: 0
Games involving United: P22 W10 L9 T3; FC/gm: 32.0; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 6; pens: 5
INJURY REPORT: REAL SALT LAKE - OUT: FW Jason Kreis (L knee partial ACL tear); DF Paul Broome (L ankle internal derangement); QUESTIONABLE: DF Brian Dunseth (L calf tendon strain); MF Seth Trembly (L knee contusion); PROBABLE: DF Nelson Akwari (L groin strain); MF Nikolas Besagno (R ankle sprain) ... D.C. UNITED - OUT: FW Alecko Eskandarian (concussion); DF David Stokes (ankle surgery); DF Kenny Arena (first metatarsal)
WARNINGS: DC: Brandon Prideaux (20 CP); Christian Gomez (10 CP in 2 gms); Bryan Namoff (20 CP); Brian Carroll (20 CP)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: RSL: Gustavo Cabrera (Guatemala; v Mexico, Oct. 8); Eddie Pope (USA; v Costa Rica, Oct. 8)... DC: Santino Quaranta (USA; v Costa Rica, Oct. 8)
This is the second meeting between the teams this season, the first at Rice-Eccles Stadium, after they met for the first time just more than a month ago in the nation's capital.
On Aug. 31, D.C. United put an end to their brief two-match losing streak in resounding fashion, thrashing Real Salt Lake 5-1 at RFK Stadium.
Jaime Moreno took over the lead in the MLS Golden Boot with a pair that gave him 90 for his MLS career, passing former United marksman Roy Lassiter for second in the league's all-time list and moving him 10 behind RSL striker Jason Kreis, the first to hit the century mark.
Moreno converted from the penalty spot after just 14 minutes to give United an early lead, after rookie Real 'keeper Jay Nolly tripped up Christian Gomez after he was put in alone on goal.
Then just before the break, Freddy Adu doubled the United lead when he slammed home a skimming drive from well outside the Real penalty area (46+).
Melvin Tarley pulled RSL back within one with his first MLS goal in his league debut, skipping around United 'keeper Nick Rimando then finishing into an empty net (51).
But Gomez restored the two-goal lead on 63 minutes, poking home his own rebound after Nolly failed to hold his first-time blast from a Josh Gros cross.
Moreno then made it 4-1 after seeing a couple of clear breakaways stopped, also hammering home a low drive from outside the area (78). Jamil Walker provided the final scoreline when the Real defense was once again split open and he clinically finished from inside the area (86).
It could have been even worse: twice Real defender Eddie Pope cleared balls off the line. Real finished the game with 10 men after Kenny Cutler was sent off for a second bookable offense late in the match.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Facundo Erpen, Bobby Boswell, Brandon Prideaux - Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen (Clyde Simms 80), Bryan Namoff - Christian Gomez (Jamil Walker 76) - Freddy Adu, Jaime Moreno (Matt Nickell 83)
Here's Ellinger's team (4-1-3-2): Jay Nolly - Nelson Akwari (Adolfo Gregorio 41), Brian Dunseth, Eddie Pope, Paul Broome - Kenny Cutler - Andy Williams (Seth Trembly 75), Clint Mathis, Robert Scarlett - Jason Kreis, Melvin Tarley
ALL-TIME (1 meetings): Real 0 wins, 1 goal ... United 1 win, 5 goals ... 0 draws
AT SALT LAKE: first meeting
REAL SALT LAKE
The Rocky Mountain Cup was still on offer as the Rapids took the advantage with one more meeting remaining, in the final league contest of the season for both teams.
Clint Mathis gave Real Salt Lake a dream start in their bid for a first-ever road win. Robert Scarlett sent a high cross from the left touchline and Mathis hit a remarkable first-time full volley, looping the ball over Rapids 'keeper Byron Foss.
But Colorado pulled level in the 39th minute as Dedi Ben-Dayan scored his third goal in as many games. Jean-Philippe Peguero wriggled out of a tight spot in the corner and drove in a low cross that Ben-Dayan sidefooted home for the equalizer.
Then four minutes from the end, Jeff Cunningham provided the winner, thanks to a neat combination from the pair that connected for the Rapids' first. They played a nice one-two on the left side of the area, the Israeli international this time sending in a low cross and Cunningham sliding in ahead of an RSL defender to poke the ball home.
Real head coach John Ellinger made four changes to the team that lost 2-1 to the Columbus Crew at home the previous weekend. Jay Nolly came back in for D.J. Countess in goal, while Brian Dunseth replaced the injured Paul Broome in the back three. Brian Kamler came into midfield and Jordan Cila came into attack, replacing the suspended Andy Williams and Jamie Watson respectively.
Here's Ellinger's team (3-4-1-2): Jay Nolly - Brian Dunseth (Nelson Akwari 38), Eddie Pope, Gustavo Cabrera - Chris Brown, Kenny Cutler, Brian Kamler (Leslie Fitzpatrick 74), Robert Scarlett - Clint Mathis - Jordan Cila, Melvin Tarley (Jamie Watson 71).
"We are disappointed, we had a good start for us. We are trying to build over these last four games. It was the first time we scored the first goal on the road all season and we would have liked to go into halftime leading 1-0," Ellinger said. "I felt like we made just that one mental lapse in the first half and we got punished for it. In the second half we should have had more effort to try and win the game"
Real Salt Lake saw their losing streak extended to nine games, losing an early lead and falling to a late goal in a 2-1 defeat by the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night in Denver. Real have 19 points from 29 matches, still in fifth place in the Western Conference but now just two points ahead of last-place Chivas USA (with one more game to be played than their expansion rivals).
Nolly started his fourth professional game, coming against the Rapids in front of family and friends, as he grew in Colorado.
"Before the game I was really, really nervous, just like any game I play. Once I got out there I forgot most of the people were there and I was just out there playing," Nolly said. "I don't get too many chances with the first team so I have to do what I can to break through the lineup."
Despite the late goal leading to a ninth loss in a row - and 14th in a row on the road - Real felt some degree of satisfaction for a solid effort. "I think the effort we put out tonight was great, especially in the first half," said RSL's Clint Mathis to the Deseret Morning News. "I think we probably got a little tired in the second half and started making bad passes and not the best of decisions. But I think if we would've been doing this all year, we might not be in the situation we're in now."
For the Rocky Mountain Cup, a large number from the Loyalists - the Real supporters club, made the trip to Denver. The trophy to be presented to the winner of the season competition was unveiled prior to the match; it was designed and hand made in Scotland before being sent to Colorado, where local engravers added finishing touches.
"I wish we could have scored the game winner and given them the respect they deserve but it's awesome that they made the trek from Salt Lake and took their time," Ellinger said. "The players definitely appreciate their support but I felt like we just left them hanging."
Two defenders played their final game for Real this season in the match against the Rapids. Eddie Pope (USA) and Gustavo Cabrera (Guatemala) have been called in for World Cup qualifying matches by their countries and will miss the final three games of the season.
Both teams were missing the playmaking engine of their teams as both Amado Guevara of the MetroStars and D.C. United's Christian Gomez were suspended.
It was the home side that drew first blood, a pinpoint cross from Youri Djorkaeff from the left flank finding Mike Magee all alone at the far post and he easily headed home to send the Metros into the lead (19).
But after the break, it was all United. The defending MLS Cup champion equalized through a bit of good fortune, Dema Kovalenko's attempted pass to the far post turned into his own goal by Jeff Agoos, sliding in front of his own 'keeper in an effort to cut out the pass (47).
Then just eight minutes later United took the lead, Jamil Walker collecting a pass on the right flank and flighting a perfect curling cross that Ben Olsen headed home completely unmarked at the back post.
United then blew the game open with two goals in four minutes. Jaime Moreno skipped out of pressure on the left before sliding a sublime pass to Olsen running hard on his right, and the veteran midfielder shot between Tony Meola's legs to make it 3-1. Moreno then added the fourth himself, setting off on a long run through the heart of the Metros defense - nutmegging Carlos Mendes in the process - before slotting home to round out the scoring.
United boss Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-0 at RFK Stadium two weeks before. Freddy Adu came in to pull the strings in midfield with Christian Gomez suspended, and Josh Gros returned from suspension to his place wide in the midfield, Santino Quaranta moving forward to a striker's role as Jamil Walker returned to the substitutes' bench.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Bryan Namoff, Facundo Erpen, Brandon Prideaux - Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko - Freddy Adu (Clyde Simms 83) - Santino Quaranta (Jamil Walker 46/John Wilson 90), Jaime Moreno.
"I told them they played very good soccer. The whole team played really hard today, and we know what we were playing for so it was important to get the three points," Nowak said. " ... It was still important to get that goal after halftime. We needed to get a goal early in the second half, so that was the turning point."
D.C. United assured their place in the MLS Cup Playoffs this year, coming back from a goal down at the half with a second-half blitz for a 4-1 victory against the MetroStars at Giants Stadium on Saturday night. United now have 50 points from 29 matches, five behind Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution but still just two ahead of third-place Chicago Fire.
While United were pleased with clinching their place in the MLS Cup Playoffs, they made it clear that was not a primary goal this season.
"You're always happy when you clinch it and make it official, but what is that? You're in the playoffs," Olsen said. "We need to be in the playoffs. If we're not in the playoffs we're doing something wrong." Added Dema Kovalenko: "It feels good but that's not a goal, man. We're defending champions and our goals are higher than that. We know we have to make playoffs."
Olsen didn't need to be told how long it's been since he's scored an MLS goal. "Nine months," he said. "That's due for sure. I'd say more overdue."
Olsen's last league goal came Sept. 18, 2004 in a 3-1 victory against the Chicago Fire. In addition, it was his second career professional two-goal game; his first came in the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998, in an 8-0 victory against Trinidad & Tobago's United Petrotrin.
"It feels good to get your first goals even though they're late," Olsen said. "I feel like when I'm here at the Meadowlands, I always have a chance to score. It's just one of those places. I think all players have that place they like to play and this is one of them for me."
The late two-goal surge was also important for United as they look toward beginning defense of their MLS Cup title. "We were due," Olsen said. "It's been a bit of a black mark on us this year, not finishing games. There's been a couple of games when we needed to do it, we didn't do it and we got punished for it."