SANDY — Nick Rimando hasn’t been called upon to help Real Salt Lake save a point at home in quite a while, but that’s how it played out on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium and the veteran keeper was equal to the challenge.
He made a point-blank save with his gut in the 71st minute and then a fingertip diving save in the 88th minute to help Real Salt Lake preserve a point with a 1-1 tie against visiting Montreal.
It wasn’t the result RSL was hoping for, but the tie helped RSL extended its home unbeaten streak to 12 straight (9-0-3) as it now heads on the road for three straight games.
“We’re definitely disappointed because this was a big opportunity tonight. We’re going to look at the positives, look at the negatives, and then we have another opportunity Wednesday against the Western Conference,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
RSL remained in sixth place in the West standings with the point, but, with favorable results around the league, it could’ve vaulted higher in the standings.
Joao Plata scored from the spot for Real Salt Lake’s lone goal in the first half, with Montreal equalizing early in the second half. Both teams had shots at a winner, but they had to share the points as both keepers came up big.
“We created a lot of chances, credit to their keeper he made some unbelievable saves,” said Beckerman.
RSL went ahead in the 26th minute on a well-struck penalty kick from Joao Plata.
The entire buildup to the PK was the result of a calculated gamble by coach Mike Petke on a Montreal corner kick. It worked in the first half but then backfired in the second half.
Instead of dropping eight players into the box to defend Montreal’s corner kick, Petke had Albert Rusnak stand at the midfield stripe and then had Plata and Jefferson Savarino just underneath him on the wings.
The thinking is if RSL wins the initial corner kick, it can transition quickly with almost even numbers against Montreal. The risk is not having those extra bodies around the box to win those second balls.
Ironically enough, Real Salt Lake didn’t win either the first or second ball on Montreal’s corner kick, but Nick Besler came up huge to bail out the gamble. He blocked back-to-back Montreal shots in the box, the second of which seemed like it could’ve been a sure goal.
“That’s what every player should do, put their body on the line, put their body in the way of shots and on rushing players and we need to see more of that,” said Petke.
Besler was making just his second start in the past 11 games, likely just so regular starter Marcelo Silva could get extra rest before two games next week.
Besler’s second block popped out to Corey Baird, who was in great position to clear the ball up to Rusnak to ignite the counter. From there Rusnak dropped the ball back to Damir Kreilach who then swung it wide to a sprinting Plata.
“With the pace and creativity of Albert, Plata and Savarino thought we could catch them, and we did,” said Petke.
Plata dribbled all the way to the box and was fouled trying to split two defenders. He calmly buried the penalty for his team-leading seventh goal of the season and the 1-0 lead.
Kyle Beckerman missed a free header on a corner kick in the 32nd minute that likely would’ve finished off Montreal, which noticeably looked gassed in the 25th minute in the elevation and all the smoky air.
Early in the second, Savarino ripped a shot that looked like it would double the lead as well, Montreal keeper Evan Bush narrowly pushed it wide.
A few minutes later on another Montreal corner kick in the 55th minute, the visitors punished RSL for keeping so many players up high and leveled the score at 1-1.
“The risk, reward I’m comfortable with at 0-0 early in the game at home, but up 1-0 I should’ve probably pulled back Albert to the box,” said Petke.
Instead of whipping the corner into the box, Montreal played it short but then quickly worked back to the middle of the field outside the box. There wasn’t an extra RSL player there to quickly close down the space because they were near the midfield stripe.
It took a wicked blast from outside the box by Jukka Raitala to punish the approach, but it’s hard to imagine that Raitala ever would’ve had that much time and space to rip that kind of shot had RSL had another player in there defending the lead.
Petke took full responsibility after the game for that decision. “That falls on me,” he said.
The schedule is about to get a lot tougher for Real Salt Lake with three straight road games, including a game at Los Angeles FC this Wednesday and then a quick turnaround at Houston on Saturday.