Riding high from Wednesday’s last-minute victory over the LA Galaxy that saw it move into fifth place in the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake traveled south to take on last-place Austin FC with hopes to accumulate points in its quest to secure not just a playoff appearance, but home-field advantage in its first playoff game.
Inconsistency was once again an issue for the Claret and Cobalt Saturday afternoon, however, as it fell 2-1 to the team in green and frustratingly came away with zero points against the Western Conference’s worst team.
Austin’s Cecilio Dominguez scored both goals for the Texas side, while Damir Kreilach notched his 13th goal of the season (tied for fourth most in MLS).
The Kreilach goal came in the 64th minute, giving RSL hope after falling behind by two goals early in the second half, but RSL was ultimately unable to find the equalizer and salvage any points to aid its playoff push before the team goes on a two-week international break.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
The first goal for Austin FC came in the 17th minute, and a fair amount of luck on the side of Austin was required to get the opener. After a deflection saw Austin’s Sebastián Driussi open to take an attempt on goal, RSL’s David Ochoa dove to save the strike only to have the save deflect right to Dominguez’s feet, and he had an easy chance to score.
Call it what you will — whether it was being in the right place at the right time for Austin or just bad luck for Real Salt Lake, the goal certainly set an unfortunate tone for the Claret and Cobalt early in the match.
Struggling to hold possession in the midfield
Many of Austin’s scoring chances came as a result of poor giveaways from the RSL in the midfield. The frequent turnover in possession put pressure on the back three of interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni’s 3-4-1-2 formation.
In fact, it was a cheap giveaway that led to Austin’s second goal, which ended up being the score that separated the two teams when the final whistle blew.
“I thought we were really cheap in possession,” Mastroeni said. “Our possessions when we were in attack were better. However, I think our execution was really poor today. … (We’ve) just got to make better decisions with the ball.”
The up-and-down pattern of Real Salt Lake’s season remained in place with Saturday’s disappointing loss, serving as an unsatisfactory sequel to what was a dramatic win over the Galaxy Wednesday night.
Though inconsistent play continues to be an issue for the playoff-hopeful RSL squad, tired legs could be one of the reasons for the noticeable lack of energy the team showed on Saturday after playing three games in the past week.
“I think (we had) heavy legs from playing three games in six days,” Rubio Rubin said. “But (Austin) had to do that as well. We knew it was going to be difficult coming here and playing in the heat, but we had plenty of opportunities to put away and score, but we’ll just have to move on.”