Real Salt Lake mustered a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals tonight against rivals Sporting Kansas City. SKC grabbed an away goal and will head back home for the second leg in need of a 0-0 draw at minimum to advance. Unfortunately, RSL will have to make next week’s trip without a key player in Albert Rusnak who will serve a yellow card accumulation suspension.
Mike Petke fielded nearly the same lineup we saw in LA, with the exception of Sunny starting alongside Kyle at holding mid, and Joao Plata starting on the left wing where Corey Baird started just three nights ago.
RSL was shouting for a penalty in the 20th minute when Damir Kreilach went down in the box after a collision, but referee Baldomero Toledo made no call and play went on.
Albert Rusnak earned a yellow card in the 26th minute for a sliding challenge that Toledo deemed reckless. Rusnak will miss next week’s leg in Kansas City due to yellow card accumulation after receiving one in LA on Thursday.
Marcelo Silva went down in the 40th minute with an apparent injury, and Justen Glad came on the next minute to replace him and finish out the first half.
While the half finished deadlocked at 0-0, RSL dominated possession with a commanding 69%-31% while outpassing SKC with 85% accuracy compared to their 71%. They were basically even on overall shots. With RSL logging five total with one on frame, and SKC with six overall and two on frame.
RSL finally broke duck in the 52nd minute thanks to a Rusnak stunner. Brooks Lennon sent the ball into Rusnak from the far side of the 18. Rusnak tipped it up to Kreilach, who headed it back to Albert who found space and ripped a shot on the volley. He sent it far post and caught Tim Melia heading the wrong way, and put the home side up 1-0 with authority.
It didn’t take long for Kansas City to retaliate when they capitalized off an error from Nick Rimando in the 61st minute. Rimando tried to send a ball out of the back but he kicked it right into an SKC attacker. Diego Rubio, in his first touch of the game as a sub, collected it unmarked and easily sent a shot in that went right past Rimando, tying the game at 1-1 and giving Kansas City that much needed away goal.
Despite their best efforts, RSL was unable to find another goal and will head back to Kansas City after giving up an away goal. A 0-0 draw next week will put SKC through to the next round, while a 1-1 draw will see extra time and penalties. Any draw 2-2 and above will put RSL through, as will an RSL victory with any scoreline.