ORLANDO (ABC4 Sports) – The good news is Real Salt Lake is moving on to the knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament.
The bad news is, they are not advancing with much momentum.
Johnny Russell scored in the first minute, as Sporting Kansas City raced out to an early lead in route to a 2-0 victory over RSL.
After starting the MLS season with a win and three draws, this is Real Salt Lake’s (1-1-3) first loss.
Real Salt Lake finishes Group D play with a record of 1-1-1, and will face San Jose Monday night at 6:30 p.m. in the knockout round.
RSL managed just five total shots, one on target, failing to score a goal for the second straight game.
“I take total responsibility for that first goal,” head coach Freddy Juarez said. “I didn’t have the guys ready coming out of the locker room for the beginning of the game. After that, I think we found the rhythm of the game and started finding the pockets we talked about in pregame. We had some chances where we got into the box and got some crosses that we didn’t get on the end of.”
Sporting got off to a flying start, opening the scoring after just 51 seconds through Russell. The Scot pounced on a loose ball that RSL failed to clear after a corner kick, finding the back of the net from just next to the penalty spot.
“It’s always tough to start that way because that kind of puts you on the back foot down 1-0,” said defender Justen Glad. “You’re starting behind which is always tough because you have to chase the game. I thought we responded well after that and started playing better once we woke up a little bit. But you can’t make that mistake and be asleep on that first goal.”
That was the first goal surrendered by RSL keeper Zac MacMath, who had notched two clean sheets in Real Salt Lake’s first two games of the tournament.
“We already knew we were through and the points from these games count towards the regular season,” said defender Aaron Herrera. “So they were still important. But we’re through and we don’t know what’s going to happen after this tournament, so we need to make sure we take advantage of our time here and look to pick ourselves back up in the next game and send ourselves through.”
Minutes after coming off the bench, Gerso Fernandes made his presence felt immediately. He took his defender one-on-one from the right wing, cut in on his left foot and fired a curling shot into the corner. Alan Pulido was credited with an assist on both goals, he now has three goals and four assists in his first five games with SKC.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia returned after serving his one-game suspension for an opening game red card and needed only to make one save.
RSL young Designated Player Jeizon Ramirez made his tournament debut off the bench. The 19-year-old Venezuelan joined the club in February.