CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (ABC 4 Sports) – Real Salt Lake took to the field for exhibition play for the first time this 2012 preseason earlier today, the Claret-and-Cobalt opening their spring slate with a 1-1 draw against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at the Grande Sports World complex. The 125-minute contest was played across three periods (45-45-35), allowing both clubs an extended look at their assembled camp rosters.
While Real Salt Lake’s players relished the opportunity to kick someone besides themselves after two weeks of training, it was Vancouver doing most of the kicking in the opening 15 minutes, as some rusty touches by RSL and overzealous challenges from the opposition resulted in some high anxiety in the early going.
After three cautions were issued in the span of eight minutes soon after, both sides would calm down the physical play and pick up their attacks, with Whitecaps FC hitting paydirt first in the 27th minute. It was a former RSL’er, MF Atiba Harris, creating the chance, as he played FW Darren Mattocks into the right side of the area, where the 2012 MLS SuperDraft’s second overall selection slotted a low shot just between GK Nick Rimando and the right post to push Vancouver ahead 1-0.
But the lead would last only until the 39th minute, when RSL FW Fabian Espíndola struck a low blast from the penalty spot to the right of wrong-footed Vancouver ‘keeper Joe Cannon to even things up at 1-1. It was RSL MF Ned Grabavoy’s constant buzzing around the Whitecaps FC area finally paying off, the newly re-signed veteran being taken down with a tackle as he ushered the ball into the top of the area moments earlier.
Largely the same cast of characters would start the next stanza for RSL, with Head Coach Jason Kreis opting to swap the bulk of his players for a new look just after the hour mark. The change of personnel didn’t change RSL’s fortunes with the referees, as the Utahns picked up four yellow card cautions during the period.
While Espindola’s pick-pocket of GK Brad Knighton’s poor distribution and his ultimately fruitless attempt to round the netminder in the 57th minute marked the most dangerous offensive opportunity, it was the insertion of MF Sebastian Velasquez a couple of minutes earlier that provided a quick jolt for the RSL attack. The rookie hopeful first picked out MF Jonny Steele with a cutback cross after achieving the endline in the 63rd minute, but while Steele’s header beat Knighton it also drifted just over the crossbar. Four minutes later Velasquez ran onto a free kick at the right corner of the six-yard box, but his volleyed attempt would also barely miss the frame.
Steele also created a fine chance of his own in the 82nd minute after rounding a defender on the right flank, but his cross to pick out FW Emiliano Bonfigli’s far-post run was snagged by Knighton. In the waning moments of the period FW Cody Arnoux had two bites of the apple to put RSL in front, but his first chance was knocked away by Knighton before another seconds later got caught up in traffic at the top of the six.
The final 35 minutes was highlighted by a pair of fine saves by GK Lalo Fernandez, the RSL-Arizona Academy product first knocking away FW Omar Salgado’s straight-on rocket from 20 yards in the 103rd minute, followed by a fingertip touch that forced a close-range shot to deflect straight down off the crossbar in the 112th minute. The best offensive chance for the Utah side came in the 118th minute, when MF Enzo Martinez saw his blast from the arc knocked away by GK Andrew Fontein.