KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Real Salt Lake’s season came to a close in disappointing fashion on Sunday afternoon, but it could've been a much different result had one or two plays broken a different way.
Despite being down 2-0 on the day and 3-1 on aggregate at halftime of their second leg against Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake pushed forward hard and on multiple occasions came inches away from grabbing the away goal they needed to win the series. While they didn’t complete the comeback and eventually conceded a very late insurance goal in a 4-2 loss (5-3 on aggregate), RSL manager Mike Petke had plenty of positive things to say of their effort in the second half.
“I’m trying to think of a time where I had more pride, to be honest with you, after that second half,” Petke said postgame. “I was blown away by their reaction against a very good team, at home, down two nothing. To be without two key players, and to see us take it to them in the second half and have two clear cut chances to tie the game and take the series, it’s a game of inches.”
Petke continued, “For now, all I can say is I’m extremely proud. I think that any RSL supporter out there watching tonight should realize how much these guys put in, and they should be proud.”
Real weathered the storm at the beginning of the second half, and substitute Sebastian “Bofo” Saucedo gave them life with a great finish in the 60th minute. Ilie’s penalty kick put Sporting KC back up by two goals, but yet again RSL found another through Damir Kreilach. So what spurred on their second half reaction?
“I mean there was tactical adjustments at halftime,” Petke said. “This is the last 45 minutes of the season if the score remains the same. So we went more aggressive in the second half.”
Ultimately they fell short, and the penalty kick for Sporting KC in the 67th minute was truly the difference in the tie. Diego Rubio burst into the area and took a heavy touch past Nedum Onuoha, who took down the Chilean forward. Petke and RSL didn’t quite agree on the penalty kick call.
“The only thing that I said to the fourth official, which I stand by, is that the ball was in Nick’s [Rimando] hands,” Petke said. “I told him be certain. Please be certain that this is 100%. Because this is not the type of game that you go with, ‘Yeah I called it so we’re going to go with it’”
Marcelo Silva and Albert Rusnak were unavailable for RSL selection on the night due to injury and suspension, respectively. The RSL backline which had conceded 58 goals during the regular season, the most of any of the playoff teams, had looked better during their run to the postseason. But without Silva, the decision was there to either play Nick Besler or Justen Glad.
“As a coach you have many tough decisions to make looking at matchups, looking at who you feel is more in form, who you feel could impact this game a bit” Petke said.“Going back to Nick [Besler’s] performance here last time, we played them to a 1-1 tie here. It was a very tough decision. Justen has played 33 games for us this year, and Justen is still a huge part of our future. But coaches have to make very tough decisions and it was the decision I went with.”
When pressed on whether or not he liked the decision, Petke added, “I don’t really understand that question. We just lost. Do I like that decision? I stand by my decision. I stand by my decision one hundred percent.”
And despite their elimination, Petke noted that Real Salt Lake still have a young squad, and hopes they can learn from the experience.
“It comes down to them realizing some of the mistakes that have been made this year, and correcting them,” Petke said. “And that’s a part of being a professional. It’s part of elevating your game. If not, you’re just going to stay the same player.”