SANDY — Real Salt Lake’s hopeful summer climb up the Western Conference standings ran into an early snag Sunday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Despite a visit from last-place Colorado, and despite the long-awaited debut of Joao Plata, Alvaro Saborio and Sebastian Jaime in the starting lineup together, RSL’s finishing in the final third was once again lacking.
The chances were there, but all the dangerous ones went wide as Real Salt Lake was forced to settle for 0-0 draw against rival Colorado in front of 18,895.
“Definitely two points dropped as opposed to one point earned,” said RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland.
It could’ve easily been no points earned. In the 88th minute, RSL defender Aaron Maund — who came on for injured Jamison Olave just six minutes into the match — dove in on Colorado’s Luis Solignac in the box and failed to win the ball. The ref didn’t hesitate pointing to the spot, which keeper Nick Rimando didn’t dispute.
Fortunately for RSL, Rapid midfielder Dillon Powers put his penalty kick wide of the right post.
The penalty was the fifth called against Real Salt Lake in the past seven matches, but Powers squandered a chance for Colorado to steal the first leg in the battle for the Rocky Mountain Cup.
“Thank goodness this is one of the few times we haven’t paid for our mistakes. Typically we’ve been paying for our mistakes, and this game we didn’t pay,” said coach Jeff Cassar.
The point keeps ninth-place RSL four points clear of last-place Colorado, but it missed a chance to move into the top six in the West.
“Home games. You’ve got to win your home games. We didn’t do that tonight, and we’ve just got to continue to fight and hopefully get those points back somewhere along the line,” said Rimando.
There were chances throughout Sunday’s match to secure all three points.
Plata, Jaime and Saborio looked dangerous on numerous occasions throughout the first half. Saborio in particular had three quality looks on goal but put all three headers over the bar.
“Maybe a different day we put that game away in the first half, but sometimes that’s the way your luck goes,” said Tony Beltran.
RSL’s attack hit a lull for about 15 or 20 minutes midway through the second half, and Cassar said it was clear some of his players were tiring. He was a bit handcuffed with his sub options, however, after burning an early sub on Olave when he picked up a quad strain just a few minutes into the match.
Jaime was eventually subbed off by Olmes Garcia in the 63rd minute, and then Devon Sandoval replaced Saborio in the 80th minute.
A few minutes after Sandoval’s insertion, RSL’s stagnant attack found life. In the 84th minute Plata found a pocket of space about 20 yards from goal but his curling shot swerved painstakingly wide of the right post. Just over a minute later, Mulholland found himself on the end of a Javier Morales cross but his diving header also drifted wide.
“Early on in the season I scored that one against Toronto, and just tried to do the same and this time it didn’t come off the way I wanted it to. Right there I could’ve won the game,” said Mulholland.
Just two minutes after Mulholland’s miss, Real Salt Lake found itself staring at what seemed like a sure loss as Powers lined up his PK. He stutter-stepped his approach, and even though Rimando guessed the wrong way Powers booted the ball wide.
RSL had one more golden opportunity on the last touch of the game, but Javier Morales’ shot from about 15 yards was deflected and went wide.
“These are big matches, especially at home, this is where we have to start collecting points. Maybe a missed opportunity to let two points slip by us, but we have to be pleased we kept a shutout at home,” said Beltran.
Real Salt Lake has two weeks off until its next league game against Kansas City on June 21, but it returns to action in nine days against Sounders 2 in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round game.
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.