It turns out that things could get worse for Real Salt Lake.
After dealing with a long list of injuries, after losing players to the USMNT in Brazil, and after going winless in their last five games before the World Cup break, RSL hoped to come away with a win at Chivas USA to start the second half of the season.
Those hopes effectly ended just over eight minutes into the game when midfielder Luke Mulholland went in studs-up on Chivas midfielder Martin Rivero – and right in front of referee Kevin Stott, who quickly pulled out a red card.
“It looks pretty bad,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “But I know, speaking to Luke, that the intent wasn't there. But when you leave your feet and expose your cleats, you leave yourself at the mercy of the referee. We put ourselves in a tough spot.”
RSL gave up just one goal, a phenomenal volley by Chivas' Erick "Cubo" Torres in the 35th minute that would be all the home team would need to claim all three points on Saturday night. For the majority of the game, Salt Lake had the upper hand – albeit against the last-place team in the Western Conference.
Playing a man down for more than 80 minutes and losing by a single goal might be better than most would expect.
“I think we have to be proud of what we did on the field because we fight until the last minute,” midfielder Javier Morales told reporters.
In the end, RSL had 57 percent of the posession, but only eight shots to 19 for Chivas; only two shots on goal to Chivas' eight. It was enough to give Chivas the win and continue RSL's midseason skid that's looking more ominous with each passing game.
After opening the season unbeaten (6-0-6) through 12 games, the Claret-and-Cobalt have lost three of their last four MLS matches and are winless through their last five. Toss in an embarrassing loss to lower-division Atlanta in US Open Cup play and things are starting to look rather grim.
And they look even more grim when you take a glance at the standings and see that the Seattle Sounders have opened up a 10-point advantage over Salt Lake, which now finds itself tied with the Colorado Rapids for second place in the Western Conference.
For weeks, Cassar has been talking about how his team (6-3-7, 25 points) needs to eliminate mistakes that are costing them points. Not just in the losses, but in the ties. And Mulholland's red card is the latest in a long list of mistakes RSL has come to regret.
“Hopefully, it's going to be a teaching lesson that these things put your whole team in a tough position,” Cassar said. “Rarely do you ever want to leave your feet and expose your cleats at the halfway line. If it's stopping a breakaway or a goal-scoring opportunity, OK, you can live with that. But the choice to leave your feet that early in the game under those circumstances, there's repercussions for that.”
And now, Real Salt Lake, to a man, is shifting its focus on their next contest, a Fourth of July match at home against the New England Revolution, one which they feel is a must-win.
“We've got to right this ship,” Cassar said. “And I think that we're going to, without a doubt. But the key is keeping 11 players on the field.”