Goals from Damir Kreilach and Miguel Ibarra ultimately produced a draw, but a wild final 10 minutes in Sandy, Utah left both Real Salt Lake and Minnesota United FC unsatisfied with having dropped points at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday night.
For the hosts, it was a game in which the Claret-and-Cobalt held a majority of the run of play, keeping 61.4 percent of the possession and tallying seven shots on target to Minnesota’s three.
RSL (13-10-6) took the lead early as Kreilach scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season.
Receiving a pass from Sunny that cut through the Loons’ midfield, the Croatian was given enough space to dribble ahead and set himself for a shot from around 25 yards out. A skipping effort just inside the far post got the better of Minnesota keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, and gave the red-hot Kreilach his ninth goal in eight games.
A lack of defensive mettle in the Loons’ midfield at the start of the season had prompted coach Adrian Heath to adopt a 3-5-2 formation for much of the summer. The change saw Heath use a third central midfielder to help contest the middle of the field. However, the return to match fitness of Maximiano and the recent acquisition of Fernando Bob prompted Heath to employ a four-man back line for the second-straight game.
With a pair of Brazilian midfielders best cast as No. 6s anchoring the Loons’ formation, it was surprising how easy it was for RSL to find room to shoot from 20 to 25 yards out.
In notable addition to Kreilach’s goal, Joao Plata rattled the post from a similar distance in the 33rd minute. With Shuttleworth seemingly beaten by the shot, Plata came within inches of doubling RSL’s lead.
Making matters tricky for Minnesota (9-16-3), forward Abu Danladi existed the game in the 24th minute with an apparent hamstring injury — a recurring issue for the Ghanaian. With fellow forward Ángelo Rodríguez out with an injured calf and 19-year-old Mason Toye on loan, Heath was forced to move winger Romario Ibarra up top and push his leading scorer — Darwin Quintero — out wide.
Sep 15, 2018; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (10) warms up prior to the match against Minnesota United FC at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
A front three of Quintero and Romario and Miguel Ibarra (no relation) gave Minnesota plenty of pace up top, but a disconnect with the midfield short-circuited Minnesota’s attack in the first half. The attacking trio seldom checked back to receive service to feet, nor was it fed a consistent supply of long passes in an attempt to get behind the RSL back line. The approach led to a number of long passes intercepted by RSL, which in turn gave the Claret-and-Cobalt opportunities on the counter, pinning the Loons back.
“The one thing that we spoke about at halftime, I am fed up with having people who can run and all they want to do is come to the ball and show everybody how good the touch is,” Heath said. “We have not bought Romario Ibarra to come to the ball and play tiki taka football. We played him to use his speed. He has terrific speed and wants to run in behind. Conceivably he could have gotten three or four tonight when he got in there. That is something for us to work with and something to look at in the next few weeks.”
Heath’s words at halftime had some effect, and three minutes after the restart, Romario Ibarra was played in on goal. Ibarra’s attempt to chip Nick Rimando was sent wide, but required a timely intervention from Justen Glad to prevent Quintero from rescuing the chance at the back post.
Chasing the game, and with RSL looking in control until the final quarter of an hour, Minnesota finally got on the scoresheet in the 84th minute.
A loose ball was recovered by Quintero on the edge of the 18-yard box, allowing the Loons’ dangerman to slip a pass into Miguel Ibarra.
“I saw Rimando coming out — just flying at me,” said Ibarra. “My instinct was just to chip him.”
Turning and lifting the ball over the oncoming keeper, Ibarra brought Minnesota level.
Three minutes later, the Loons thought they’d won it when a Brent Kallman header sent an attempted clearance back towards the RSL goal.
Kallman’s header bounded just over Maximiano, finding Quintero, who executed a bicycle flick-on. Running onto the ball was Miguel Ibarra, who blasted a shot over Rimando and into the top netting from an acute angle.
The Loons celebrated as the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium went quiet. But then referee Chris Penso signaled for VAR.
After a three-minute review, the goal was ruled offside.
“Everybody says these things even themselves out, so we have plenty to come in the next six or seven games,” said Heath. “Every time there is a VAR decision we don’t seem to get any benefit from it. It is supposed to be clear and obvious. They have watched it again four times in the dressing room and nobody can tell.”
Ultimately, it was determined that Quintero had come back from an offside position to flick on Kallman’s header. If so, the margin for the call was a matter of inches, as Maximiano narrowly missed touching the ball on an attempted header of his own before the ball reached Quintero.
“So disappointed in our first half performance, which to say it was passive would be an understatement,” Heath reflected. “[In the second half] we were everything we weren’t in the first half. We played on the front foot, played good football, tried to stretch the pitch and tried to play in behind. Towards the end I was disappointed we didn’t actually win the game because I thought we looked the most likely. You can certainly say it was a game of two halves, but it was stark warning for me. As I mentioned to the players, we cannot play like that on the road in the first half.”