Real Salt Lake wrapped up their two-game Eastern Conference road swing with another muggy matchup on Saturday night, erasing a bleak first half with one strike from Fabian Espíndola to salvage a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.
Head coach Jason Kreis called RSL’s first half “abysmal,” but celebrated his team’s response after the Union’s Keon Daniel scored and Philly nearly added a few additional goals before the break.
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“We were second to everything,” Kreis said. “And I think we had to be fortunate that we only allowed one goal.”
“The reaction in the second half was superb,” he added. “We were fighting. We were possessing the ball better. We were more aggressive with our decisions. We spent more time in their half of the field. That’s exactly the way that we want to play.”
The draw comes on the heels of a 2-1 midweek loss to the Columbus Crew, when RSL uncharacteristically blew an early lead off a goal from defender Jamison Olave. They never seriously threatened to lead Saturday’s game, but got a fantastic goal from Espíndola in the 53rd minute to at leave the losing streak behind in Ohio.
The goal was also set in motion by strike partner Jean Alexander, who fought for a ball near midfield and launched it forward to Espíndola making the run into space in the Union half. Espíndola did the rest, beating defender Carlos Valdes and lacing a shot to the far post for the equalizer.
“Going into this week, I kind of set my goal for two points or more, so I think we did fall a little bit short of that with only the one point in two matches,” Kreis said. “But sometimes it’s more important how we play, not necessarily the number of points we got. And so what we got in the second half tonight is really something that we can build off of. “
Kreis also say a few other bright spots from RSL, including the performance of 17-year-old Luis Gil, who made his first career MLS start.
“He earned his opportunity tonight, but we’re also pretty thin on players,” Kreis said. “I thought he did a pretty good job tonight. It was a shaky beginning. But I thought he had a better second half.”
“He’s just a young kid, and I thought he came out aggressive and played intelligently,” added midfield teammate Ned Grabavoy.
The second pleasant surprise came late in the match, with the introduction of forward Artur Aghasyan. RSL’s latest signing was very active, fought for the ball in the attacking third and showed perhaps another option for Kreis at the striker spot where the team is currently low on numbers.
“He hasn’t trained with us long, so we don’t really know what to expect,” Grabavoy said. “You bring a guy like him in for Jean, and you have a completely different look up top.”