Real Salt Lake leave room for improvement while retaining Rocky Mountain Cup
Real Salt Lake drew with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, July 9th in the Rocky Mountain Cup as the Rapids scored two goals in the final 25 minutes to fight back to a 2-2 draw. Jefferson Savarino and Justin Meram scored the goals for RSL.
There's two ways of looking at this match. One way is that yes, RSL got a result and got a point out of it (while keeping the Rocky Mountain Cup), but on the flip side it kind of feels as if Salt Lake lost two points in the match because they were unable to hold onto their 2-0 lead and gave up a late equalizer. RSL had a couple of chances to put the match away, but weren't able too. We all know what kind of team Salt Lake is capable of being, they just have to get back on track and play a full 90 minutes.
Jefferson Savarino put RSL in front late in the first half as he scored from outside the box in the fourth minute of added time in the final seconds of the half. Savarino took advantage of some space, and took his time before sending in a nice low shot that beat Colorado's keeper William Yarbrough.
Justin Meram then doubled RSL's lead shortly after halftime in the 51st minute as he put home a header off a rebound off the crossbar. Pablo Ruiz took a free kick and laced it off the crossbar, and then Meram dove and headed the ball in for the goal. Meram had just missed a fantastic goal late in the first half by a couple of inches, but finally got on the board in the second.
Colorado got their first goal back in the 67th minute as Diego Rubio converted a penalty kick. Michael Barrios drew the penalty after his foot was stepped on in the box as he was trying to cut in while dribbling in the box. Rubio sent Zac MacMath the wrong way and sent the ball into the right side of the net to get a goal back for Colorado.
The Rapids then got the late (heartbreaking for RSL) equalizer in the 89th minute as Lalas Abubakar scored a fantastic goal. There was controversy surrounding the goal about whether Abubakar was offsides, and that aspect of the goal will be debated about for a long time in this rivalry. The ball was played into the box on a free kick, Gyasi Zardes then headed the ball out to Abubakar who redirected the ball on a volley into the net for the equalizer.
My opinion on this goal is: 1) It was a fantastic finish from Abubakar, 2) it was a heartbreaking goal for RSL to concede (especially with the controversy), 3) RSL likely should have put the match away before this moment, and 4) I probably do honestly think Abubakar was offside, but it's difficult to tell with the camera angles.
RSL missed a great chance in the 58th minute as a header from Sergio Cordova who hit off the sidebar. It was a tough break for a potential dagger to be denied by the bar. Scott Caldwell also had a good chance late to find a match-winner for RSL in added time, but his shot went just wide-left.
Savarino and Meram had very strong matches for RSL. They were arguably Salt Lake's two best players in my opinion. They both played really well and deserve a lot of credit for their performances. Savarino scored the goal, completed 90% of his passes, and made three key passes in 85 minutes.
Meram scored, completed 96.7% of his passes, made a key pass, and drew two fouls across 75 minutes (as he subbed on in the first half due to an early injury to Anderson Julio).
Looking at the match statistics, Salt Lake had an ever so slight advantage in possession at 50.5%-49.5%. Colorado had the slim led in shots 15-14 and also put more shots on target (4-2). So, both of RSL's shots on target turned were goals.
The Rapids also had a slight edge in pass completion %, as they completed 78.6% of their passes to RSL's 77.9%. Colorado held a big edge in expected goals 3.1-1.3, but it does feel as if RSL missed several chances to score outside of their two goals.
Even though this match ended in a hard-fought draw, RSL still holds a firm advantage in the Rocky Mountain Cup. RSL holds the yearly series advantage 13-5 and holds the individual match edge 25-15-13. Colorado retains the cup this season since both matches between Salt Lake and Colorado this season ended in draws and RSL won the cup last season.
RSL currently sits third in the West with 30 points through 19 matches. Salt Lake could use some breathing room as they're just three points ahead of seventh place and just four points ahead of ninth in the West. The next few matches will be very important. RSL will be back in acton on Wednesday, July 13th against Atlanta United.