First leg yields frustrating 1-1 draw for Real Salt Lake

RSL will need road result to advance.

Thursday set the bar high. Not all postseason matches are swashbuckling affairs. This was tense. The ball switched possession; passes were sent astray and out of bounds; headers were off target. The first home playoff game at Rio Tinto Stadium since 2014 looked like too many matches for Real Salt Lake earlier this season.

The stakes were higher Sunday night. In the first half, chances on goal were few and far between. The second saw both sides break through, albeit cheaply for the visitors. Unfortunate because road goals are the ultimate tiebreaker in this aggregate series. RSL drew 1-1 against Sporting Kansas City in leg one of the Western Conference Semifinals. The Claret-and-Cobalt will need another road result, something that has bugged them during the regular season (3-11-3), to move on in this aggregate series.

Albert Rusnak scored another one of the finest strikes of the postseason in the 51st minute. Naturally it came on off a combination with Damir Kreilach.

Nick Rimando, the greatest goalkeeper in MLS history, failed to clear a routine pass back from Justen Glad. Diego Rubio made no mistake tucking it past the diving Rimando in the 60th minute. Cruel for the veteran who has continually saved RSL in his 12 years for the club.

It wasn’t disappointing like a 1-1 draw to Minnesota in September, or maddening like a 1-1 to San Jose in June. This opponent was higher quality. Frustrating nonetheless, Peter Vermes got what he needed – a road goal. The best team in the West secured a tie that puts them in control ahead of the return leg.

It’ll be vexing to watch next week’s second leg without one of Mike Petke’s most dazzling playmakers. Rusnak’s sloppy 26th minute tackle on Graham Zusi will have reverberations in the return leg. The Slovakian will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation.

Once again, the RSL boss will have lineup decisions to make before next Sunday’s deciding match. Petke rose to the occasion against LAFC. Can he do it again?

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