Real Salt Lake's topsy-turvy start to the season hit a low point Saturday night after a 1-0 road loss to fellow expansion side Chivas USA.
Real's lackluster play through much of the match was compounded by two key injuries. Midfielder Clint Mathis left the game in the 30th minute after taking a knee in the lower back in the early stages of the match and goalkeeper D.J. Countess suffered a sprained left shoulder in the 81st minute, forcing midfielder Brian Kamler to take over in goal since RSL had used up all three of their substitutions.
"Sometimes it feels like the wheels are falling off and everything's going against you but you need to band together and fight through it," said RSL midfielder Leslie "Tiger" Fitzpatrick.
Losing Mathis in the first half of the match was a blow to RSL as it has struggled to find consistency in its attack. Midfielder Andy Williams, in only his second game since returning from an injury, also was still visibly less than at full strength, forcing coach John Ellinger to substitute the Jamaican international at the half.
"We needed more work rate in the middle of the field," said Ellinger.
The switch may have helped change the match's dynamic in the second half as RSL was able to create several quality scoring opportunities.
"If we could have put together two halves like the second, I think it would have been a different outcome," said Ellinger.
All that kept RSL from knotting up the score in the second half was a spectacular performance by Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan. However, Mathis' loss put more pressure on Jason Kreis, RSL's lone forward in its 4-5-1 formation.
"It was difficult for Jason alone up top because they knew he's our go-to guy and there were always three or four guys around him at all times," added Fitzpatrick.
By losing Mathis and Williams by halftime, Fitzpatrick said, "not having those two guys on the field hurt our creativity but what we lacked with that, we made up for in work ethic in the second half when we showed that we can still get forward and we can still create chances."
One of the bright spots in the match for RSL was the play of Countess before he sustained his injury.
"He's been phenomenal all season long," said veteran defender Eddie Pope. "I think he's been the best goalkeeper in the league so far. We need to do a better job of protecting him, though, and not having him face so many shots."
One of those saves came on the play when he was hurt. He saved an impressive bicycle kick attempt by Ramon Ramirez immediately after receiving the blow that sent him out of the match.
Francisco Mendoza "came in full speed, studs up and went right into my shoulder," Countess said. "I was down, I was in pain and the only thing that I could think of was to try and make a save ... the adrenaline made me get up."
When a foul wasn't called on the play by referee Terry Vaughn, Countess was frustrated. "The referee wasn't protecting me all night. I must have got hit hard three, four or five times," he said.
Countess also pointed to a referee mistake for the call that led to Chivas USA's game-winning goal. Countess claims that the handball that Marlon Rojas was called for in the penalty area was unintentional and should not have been whistled.
"I was pretty disappointed with some of the decisions that were made on the field," Countess said. "When a fluke penalty kick wins the game, that's pretty disappointing."
Pope also was disappointed in how the match was officiated. "(Chivas USA's) Ryan Suarez gets his hands up and blocks a ball but they don't call that one. I can't figure it out."
However, the Real players said the referee was not to blame for the final result.
"We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask 'what's going on' because the effort wasn't there," said Countess.
Danny Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.