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Real Salt Lake lacks attacking flare, but strong defense secures draw against Minnesota to stay atop MLS is Back group

RSL sits a top Group D after matches with the tie in Orlando

SHARE Real Salt Lake lacks attacking flare, but strong defense secures draw against Minnesota to stay atop MLS is Back group

Real Salt Lake defender Marcelo Silva (30) and Minnesota United midfielder Robin Lod (17) battle for the ball during the first half of a soccer match in Kissimmee, Fla., Friday, July 17, 2020.

Reinhold Matay, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake turned in a very uninspiring attacking performance on Friday night at the MLS is Back Tournament, but it was good enough to get a result and remain atop Group D with one match remaining.

Though the attack was largely absent, RSL’s defense was stellar throughout the night shutting out Minnesota’s vaunted attack for the 0-0 draw in the nightcap in Orlando. It was RSL’s third shutout in four matches in 2020.

“Overall I’m very proud of our guys, another clean sheet. It’s not easy playing in this weather at this time against this opponent, and our guys fought their guts out,” said RSL coach Freddy Juarez.

With the draw, Real Salt Lake and Minnesota remain tied with 4 points in Group D, with RSL occupying the top spot with a better goal differential.

“Against a team like a Minnesota who’s obviously been very good in this tournament and before the tournament, we’ll take a shutout against them. We obviously left the game feeling like we deserved more, but anytime you can keep a zero in a tournament format like this and keep getting points we’ll keep pushing for the next game,” said RSL keeper Zac MacMath.

Real Salt Lake will try and win the group next Wednesday in the group finale against Kansas City. Regardless of the result in that match, RSL is in great position to advance to the knockout round with 4 points already in the bag.

Juarez made just one change to the lineup from last Sunday’s win over Colorado, with Paulo Ruiz getting the nod over Kyle Beckerman in the midfield.

Albert Rusnak joined Beckerman on the bench just 30 minutes into the match after exiting with a hip injury, which he injured in a collision with Minnesota’s Ethan Finlay.

Rusnak tried pushing through the injury a couple of times but was eventually replaced by Justin Meram, who had a very rocky start to the match with numerous poor touches and a yellow card.

“I think I started a little slow when I came in. I felt more comfortable in the second half, just playing in the pocket and able to combine and create,” said Meram.

Real Salt Lake controlled possession throughout most of the first half, but much of it was the result of Minnesota conceding space and letting RSL swing the ball from side to side across the backline.

When RSL did attempt some penetrating passes into Minnesota’s backline, they were rarely threatening as it only led to three first-half shots.

The best scoring chance of the first half came in the final seconds as Minnesota’s Robin Lod hit the left post on a shot from the edge of the penalty area, with Finlay’s diving header rebound attempt saved by Zac MacMath.

Just five minutes into the second half, MacMath had to come up big again with a diving stab to deny another shot from Lod.

Minnesota started to take control of the match about the 65th minute and it coincided with the insertion of fresh legs as Luis Amarilla and Hassani Dotson entered the match.

RSL coach Freddy Juarez waited until the 79th minute to match the substitutions as he inserted Sam Johnson and Maikel Chang into the match for Douglas Martinez and Corey Baird.

The substitutions helped RSL tilt the field back in its favor, and Johnson ended up producing the best scoring chance of the night in the 88th minute, but he rolled his shot just wide after a perfectly-weighted through ball from Damir Kreilach set up Johnson.

Real Salt Lake ended the game with a 56-44 edge in possession, with both teams registering 10 shots. Only five combined shots hit the target.

Big picture Juarez acknowledges that his team wasn’t threatening enough in the attack, but patience is key in just the second game of the MLS restart.

“We wanted to build off the Colorado game. Our guys had a great mentality this week leading into it, went into the game with a great mentality, played the game with a great mentality, just sometime you don’t create the chances and the amount you want to,” said Juarez.

RSL wraps up group play on Wednesday (ESPN, 7 a.m.) against Kansas City with a chance to win the group with a victory. Kansas City beat 9-man Colorado on Friday 3-2 for its first points of MLS is Back