Things were going well for Real Salt Lake in last Saturday's match against the New York Red Bulls. RSL had kept the pressure on the New York penalty area and Red Bulls goalkeeper Tony Meola was busy making spectacular saves on well-placed shots.
But then, the Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd saw a scene that was hauntingly familiar. New York took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Amado Guevara, shot in off a rebound after Edson Buddle drilled a point-blank shot at RSL goalkeeper Scott Garlick. After playing so well for 76 minutes, the goal dashed RSL's hopes for a victory.
"It was definitely disappointing to see how they scored," RSL coach John Ellinger said. "We should have done better at that moment to win the ball and deal with the situation, but other than that we did really well defensively."
It was the kind of goal that would have deflated last year's team. Too often, after giving up a goal, RSL's 2005 team played like it could not wait for the final whistle. This year's team, however, fought back.
The contrasting reactions showed what kind of team RSL has this year, and all by itself could inject some hope into the hearts of Salt Lake fans dying for a victory.
But even better, RSL's come-from-behind effort netted the team a draw and its first point of the season. Ellinger certainly was pleased to see his team's fighting spirit.
"It has a lot to do with the experience of the guys that we have; they've been in tight situations before," Ellinger said. Also, he credited the comeback to the "confidence that we have and the fitness we have to keep working."
Newcomer Mehdi Ballouchy, the second pick in January's SuperDraft, played a strong game on Real's left side against Marvell Wynne, the No. 1 pick who plays right back for the Red Bulls. Although not completely happy with the draw, Ballouchy could take the result in stride.
"We missed a lot of chances, but that was the best game we've played so far," Ballouchy said. "We needed a result bad. We did well, we deserved to win, but that's football. That's the way it goes."
As pleased as Ellinger was with RSL's comeback, New York coach Mo Johnston was disappointed with it.
"We didn't hold the lead and I told our team we should have come away with three points," Johnston said. "We closed up shop, and then we nearly gave up a goal at the end with Chris Klein. We can't afford to do that."
It was Jason Kreis that scored the tying goal in the 89th minute, off a corner kick sent from the right by Chris Klein. Kreis was unmarked on the play, a credit to RSL's improved squad listing Jeff Cunningham in the starting lineup as the top scoring threat.
"Jeff hasn't scored yet, but for his side, just Jeff being on the field keeps their defense honest," Ellinger said.
Kreis led RSL in scoring last year, but having someone like Cunningham to play off of seems to suit him better.
"Jeff has always been the top goaler; he creates counter-opportunities," Ellinger said. "If you don't treat him with honesty, he's going to get in behind you over and again. Now, with Jeff and Chris Klein, we can get in behind defenses and that keeps defenses honest with us."
Peter Richins is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.