No team in MLS has less experience coming from behind this season than Real Salt Lake.
Before Saturday's game in Chicago, RSL had trailed for a total of five minutes in one game. And that was way back on March 15 at San Jose, when the Claret-and-Cobalt turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead before it became a 3-3 tie.
Despite going down 2-0 in Chicago — RSL's first multi-goal deficit of the season — the league's last unbeaten team (4-0-5) insisted nobody was worried at halftime. And that their keep-calm-and-carry-on attitude contributed to Salt Lake's three late goals, including two in the game's dying minutes, and a rather astonishing 3-2 victory on the road over the Fire.
“We weren't playing bad,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said of his team's first-half performance. “We gave up two shots and two goals.”
It looked worse than that at times. For long stretches, actually. Salt Lake's defense looked dazed and confused, giving up a 22nd-minute goal to Mike Magee, who followed up on RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando's save on Harry Shipp. And confusion reigned once again when Juan Luis Anangono slammed a header home in the 31st minute.
But RSL came out of the locker room after halftime surprisingly optimistic.
“We created several good chances” in the first half, RSL Coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “[Fire goalkeeper] Sean Johnson made a couple of unbelievable saves. And I was really, really happy with the way things were going.”
As were his players.
“We felt like if we could keep playing the way we were … we could get one,” Beckerman told reporters. “And once we got one, we knew that the comeback was possible.”
Despite the deficit, the talk at halftime was “positive,” according to Cassar. “It was — continue to keep doing the things that we're doing, 'cause all it takes is one. And then everyone starts to get a little bit nervous.”
Chicago did indeed begin to look nervous when RSL forward Joao Plata scored to make it 2-1 in the 72nd minute. Cassar, who has yet to lose since taking over as RSL head coach this season, looked more like a riverboat gambler going for broke. His three substitutions all pushed his team forward — Sebastian Velasquez on for Luke Mulholland and offensive-minded defender Abdoulie Mansally in for fellow defender Chris Wingert in the 69th minute. And then forward Olmes Garcia entered for defender Nat Borchers in the 88th minute.
The substitutions opened RSL up to Chicago counterattacks that never quite materialized. And the Fire looked downright depressed when Alvaro Saborio equalized in the 90th minute.
“Heck, after they got the second one, they were, like, 'We might win this game!'” Cassar said.
Which, confidence aside, was not something anyone was talking about in the RSL locker room at halftime.
“For me, I was happy to get out of there with a tie,” Beckerman said. “But then, when you kind of saw what was unfolding, I figured, 'We might get a third here.' And, sure enough, we did.”
Weirdly enough, last week's 2-2 tie-that-felt-like-a-loss, when RSL gave up two late goals at home to Vancouver, inspired the Claret-and-Cobalt in Chicago.
“Our feeling was — hey, look what happened to us last week. Why can't we do it the other way around on this one?'” Beckerman said.