With a fresh grass field in place, Real Salt Lake was hoping to give its home crowd another good result and shake the natural grass curse. But it was not to be as the Chicago Fire took a lead after just five minutes and rolled to a 3-0 victory, the first road team to win at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"It just seemed like we were waiting for something bad to happen," RSL coach John Ellinger said. "Then it did."
RSL was playing without defensive standout Eddie Pope, who had played with the U.S. national team against England earlier in the day. Nelson Akwari was serving a suspension, and the Trinidad & Tobago international duo of Marlon Rojas and Leslie Fitzpatrick both logged significant minutes on Wednesday with their national team before catching a flight back to Salt Lake to start against Chicago. But Real weren't making excuses.
The ball may be round, but it didn't seem to be bounce that way for RSL.
"It's just that last touch," Fitzpatrick added. "But if the ball doesn't bounce your way, it makes it difficult."
The difficulty showed as RSL struggled to settle the ball before the Fire defense collapsed, preventing shots from pressuring Chicago 'keeper Zach Thornton.
"We had quite a few chances," said forward Chris Brown. "We just didn't seem to be able to connect."
That finishing touch has been lacking on natural grass with RSL scoring only one goal in six games on natural turf. They haven't won yet on the road, their only victories coming on the FieldTurf surface at Rice-Eccles.
"I think the grass thing is blown out of proportion," Brown said. "It really doesn't make a difference. We just aren't finishing our chances."
But after Thornton made a couple of big stops early, the Fire scored early in the second half to make the hole bigger. Real then left themselves exposed in the 84th minute, allowing Chicago to make the most of another chance to tally the game's final goal.
"The good thing is we are getting good chances," Brown said. "In time, the finishing will come, the goals will come."
David Hale is a contributor MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major league Soccer or its clubs.