In the case of Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, absence can make the heart grow fonder as the old saying goes. On Friday, July 4 in front of a packed and patriotic house at Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake needed a win worse than Brazil’s national team needed professional help after crying following a win.
Speaking of Brazil, RSL had reason to cry tears of relief on a dry, hot evening in Sandy, Utah. For starters, the duo of Beckerman and Rimando were back from the very place making grown men cry, win or lose.
And perhaps as Beckerman and Rimando stood there, puffed up and proud in their white adidas windbreakers on a 95-degree evening and as Real Salt Lake and New England prepared to take the field, the extra material provided by Major League Soccer’s clothier may have been issued just in case Beckerman or Rimando felt the need to cry.
You can be sure that while Beckerman and Rimando were away at this World Cup in Brazil, RSL head coach Jeff Cassar probably felt the need to bawl buckets of tears into his sweat-soaked dress shirts as his team suffered through a horrible stretch of losses and draws dating back to mid-May.
Lucky for Cassar and for RSL fans, the claret and cobalt won this game, defeating the New England Revolution 2-1. You’d have forgiven RSL players and fans for crying after going through what they did while their dreadlocked captain and top goalkeeper were away.
Besides, Beckerman and Rimando just got off a 15-hour flight--and still wanted to play Friday--not even 24 hours after they‘d left the US soccer team, and World Cup and the vastness of Brazil in the rear view of the plane they were flying on. Such courage to come back so soon after such heartbreak would have driven many to tears.
To many, Friday’s game probably felt like the World Cup in Brazil was still going on in spirit--so that might begin to explain the odd choice of clothing during the national anthem. But nothing could explain how RSL won the game.
Once the teams took the field, Real Salt Lake certainly had all the possession--but couldn’t convert any of its scoring chances until the 35th minute. That’s when Javier Morales pulled a James Rodriguez on the New England keeper, stutter-stepping enough to make goalie dive to Morales' right while Morales coolly slotted the ball into left netting for a 1-0 lead. It worked for the Colombian striker earlier in the day against Brazil at the World Cup--so why not here, why not now?
After all, kids go their entire lives emulating those they see on TV. And just in case you were wondering, professional soccer players get to be kids again every time they take the field. How so? Morales then celebrated his PK goal by sprinting towards the left corner flag--but bypassed karate kicking it like because he’s a bit more classy than other younger and more hip world-class players.
All kidding aside, the game itself between these two teams vying for a better spot in their conference standings in MLS was a bit of a tossup. RSL couldn’t put the ball in the net and New England couldn’t stop fouling. When you combine the two, you have an ugly, chippy game.
You also had New England even things up two minutes later in minute 37 with a set piece header--marking yet another occasion that RSL’s defense hasn’t figured how to prevent teams from scoring on dead balls. On this play, Chris Tierney--a player you should keep your eye on for Russia in 2018--bent an in swinger that New England defender Darius Barnes re-directed with his forehead to tie the game.
Not only did the Revs goal knot things up--it ruined Rimando’s opportunity at tying the MLS record for career shutouts.
Things went back and forth from that point, as New England tried in vain to counterattack--its bread and butter staple--but Beckerman’s return to midfield seemed to plug up any gaps that RSL’s defense had in previous matches.
“I can’t attribute all of our possessions to holding a higher line, but I definitely think that it helps. We’re just in a better position to defend when we give the ball up, because when we’re compact versus dropping immediately and giving more space to the other team,” RSL defender Chris Schuler said in his post-game press conference.
Buoyed by a more focused and aggressive defense, RSL pushed numbers forward until it got the game-winner in the 65th minute. It again came off of a penalty kick. RSL midfielder John Stertzer tried to re-direct a deflection inside the six-yard box--and was mowed down from behind by Tierney. The referee pointed to the spot, and this time Joao Plata stepped up to take the kick--not Morales.
Perhaps Cassar felt Morales already showed the New England keeper his hand--and perhaps Cassar wanted to reward Plata with a hard day’s work. Plata buried the kick into the upper netting for a 2-1 lead. The goal was his first since May 17, which ironically or not, also marked the last time Real Salt Lake had won.