Monday night's wild 3-3 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium certainly didn’t play out the way Revolution manager Steve Nicol thought it would. Or at least the way he hoped it would.
Although his squad took a surprising 2-0 lead early in the first half and played a man up for over an hour, the Revs just couldn’t finish the job, as the match ended 3-3 and the team’s winless streak extended to eight straight.
“I feel like we just threw two points away,” said Nicol in the wake of watching his club concede the lead on two separate occasions Monday night. “I don’t know what to say, I’m absolutely flabbergasted at what just happened.”
‘Flabbergasted’ is a fitting reaction to the controversy-laden contest that occurred at Rio Tinto last night. And with good reason.
The match started off innocently enough. A few passes here, some warm up touches there. But before either team had the chance to settle in, any semblance of a standard MLS match was promptly shoved out of the window in the third minute.
With Nat Borchers and Benny Feilhaber battling for a long ball inside Salt Lake’s box, Feilhaber succumbed and crashed down, and referee Yader Reyes immediately issued a red card to Borchers for the apparent foul. But, replays of the incident showed Borchers kicked the ball into Feilhaber chest and little, if any, contact was actually made on the play.
Nevertheless, a penalty kick was awarded to the Revs. Borchers’ night was over. And the Revs suddenly found themselves in an envious position with the man advantage -- not to mention the lead, thanks to Rajko Lekic’s subsequent penalty kick -- only minutes into the match.
“It changes everything,” said Revolution defender Kevin Alston of the early red card. “It changes their dynamic, it doesn’t change our dynamic too much, but it puts us in a position where we can attack more and go after the spot they had open. Anytime a team gets a red card and goes a man down, that changes the game.”
With the man-advantage, the Revs doubled the lead when Chris Tierney’s 16th minute free kick from distance lodged itself in the back of the net.
“Going up so early, it definitely helped us relax a bit,” said Revolution skipper Shalrie Joseph. “(It) allowed us to get a little more defensive.”
But it was much too early for the Revs to relax. After all, this was Rio Tinto Stadium -- a place where they’d been previously throttled by the scores of 6-0 and 5-0. Relax? Not so fast.
Eight minutes after Tierney’s wonder goal, Will Johnson put through a loose ball to cut Salt Lake’s deficit in half and gave hope to the home supporters.
“Going up early 2-0 and they’ve got the red card early, I feel like we should have done better with that,” said Alston. “We shouldn’t have let them creep back into the game like that.”
And as a shorthanded Salt Lake methodically crept back into the match, more controversy emerged in the 53rd minute. With Salt Lake surging forward, Alston was cited for a handball inside the area. Reyes pointed to the spot. Again.
Nicol was livid. But, despite his protests, Alvaro Saborio leveled it at two apiece with a cool finish from the spot that froze Matt Reis right on his line in the 56th minute.
“Real Salt Lake is just a great team,” said Joseph. “We just made mental mistakes and they cost us. We should have done better as a team to hold on to the lead.”
And yet, it wasn’t long before Joseph rescued the Revolution’s lead -- albeit briefly. From a Feilhaber free kick, the Revolution skipper elevated over the pile and nodded it through to put his team back on top in the 63rd minute.
Minutes later, another twist altered the already-disjointed rhythm of the game. In the 67th minute, Ryan Cochrane was given his second yellow card. Goodbye, man advantage. With the teams back even on the field, Salt Lake’s search for another goal intensified.
Saborio fired a warning shot in the 68th minute when his effort rattled the post. With both sides back on even ground, the Revs nervously wiped their brows as a spirited Salt Lake attack sharpened with each passing minute.
Taking heavy fire on their end, the Revs fought desperately to withstand Salt Lake’s brazen attack. But it wasn’t long before they broke down.
In the 83rd minute, their dreams pulling off the upset were shattered when regular Revolution tormentor Fabian Espindola found the back of the net and gave Salt Lake an improbable point in light of the early red card and subsequent two-goal deficit.
Once the fireworks were over and a smoke settled, Joseph could only dwell on his team’s inability to hold onto the lead as the feral Fourth of July faceoff unfolded.
“There were some calls tonight that were suspect,” said Joseph. “But you can’t complain or take it out on the referee. We had a two goal advantage and a man advantage and we weren’t able to pull it off tonight.”
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.