It was a kick felt around living rooms and on bar stools and made Real Salt Lake fans spill their beers at The Republican as they dropped bloody F-bombs, listening to and watching the madness unfold on radio and TV. The force with which Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Gonzalo Pineda ripped the Adidas ball sent it flying past Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella as it spun into the netting.
But what transpired before that fateful penalty kick in the 42nd minute of a scoreless Real Salt Lake-Seattle Sounders classic on Saturday, May 31 may never be forgotten--at least not by Real Salt Lake fans. Was it a foul when hard charging RSL defender Aaron Maund rushed to support his team and bumped shoulders with Sounders midfielder Lamar Neagle, resulting in a foul on Maund?
Or was that foul on Maund more than just a foul? Was that PK call payback for all the years the hard luck Sounders have fallen victim to Real Salt Lake in the playoffs, a resounding, possibly deafening whistle that had the referee point to the spot as a sort of middle finger to a hard bit Real Salt Lake missing almost all of its scoring punch and one of its starting central defenders? Only RSL fans and the team itself can debate that one.
“Obviously the PK call – I don’t feel like it was a PK, neither does Aaron. Any time you leave your feet, you leave it up to the referee to make that call. I think he was kind of going away from goal a little bit,” Cassar said at his post-game press conference.
Let’s be clear about something here. Real Salt Lake was never supposed to win this game in Seattle between the two top teams in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference and in front of nearly 40,000 fans. Certainly not when the home team has spent ridiculous sums of money--New York Cosmos type money--to bring in world-class talents like Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Especially not when RSL had so many players on World Cup duty and on the shelf.
Dempsey may have been on World Cup duty--and thankfully so for RSL fans since he‘s scored 10 times this season--but Martins was certainly there on display amid the sunshine at CenturyLink Field. And he put the final dagger in RSL’s shoulder on this glorious, or not-so-glorious Saturday afternoon depending on your point of view, 4-0 win for the Sounders.
In between that fateful penalty kick goal by Pineda and Martins’ emphatic blast flushing the Sounders of all past mishaps--they hope--you saw what else transpired. RSL couldn’t keep the ball on a suspiciously soaked artificial turf surface and couldn’t shoot, but for a few awkward toe pokes. Looking at the lineup told you that RSL head coach Jeff Cassar knew he was in for a battle in Seattle.
Cassar sat a healthy Robbie Findley, a healthy Luis Gil and, most important, a healthy Chris Schuler who is to RSL’s backline what the legions of DP’s are to Seattle. Was Aaron Maund hard bit to rub shoulders with a Sounders attack that had already scored a league-best 25 goals before today’s game? Maund has played for three teams in three years. Maund also had the unenviable task of tracking the speedy Martins all over the soggy pitch in the noonday sun.
Despite the fans wondering why RSL did something so stupid as to start Maund, there are good reasons for such a move. One is he's fleet of foot--as you saw when he tracked down Martins on a breakaway in the second half. The second reason is Real Salt Lake has to play in Columbus in three days. And the third--as if you didn't know--is that hated rival Portland comes to Rio Tinto later this week with just as much, or more, to prove as Seattle. If you’re counting at home--and you are--that’s three games in seven days.
“Like I said, it’s really about taking care of our bodies. Obviously we have 19 healthy bodies right now. It’s definitely not easy, but I know the character in our locker room is extremely strong,” Cassar said.
Is it that RSL didn’t care about playing Seattle with its best players? Hardly the case as Cassar noted. And yes, this one stung because your team did win or tie 12 games in a row, tying a Major League Soccer record.
But you can also argue that RSL saw more of a need to get through this game, lose one and fight on--but live to fight another day. Seattle’s second goal was a thing of beauty and not even Richard Sherman could have stopped Marco Pappa’s free kick from bending around the RSL wall and swirling into the net.
By the third goal, RSL’s will wasn’t dead by any means--but it was crushed somewhat by that blasted penalty kick. But what the soccer gods had in store for RSL as the game went on? That will be relived for weeks and months to come until the next time these two meet.