Javier Morales scored a 97th minute penalty kick goal to give 10-man Real Salt Lake a wild 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union in front of a sold-out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night.
Morales put his kick off of the right post and in with virtually the final kick of the match to extend RSL’s unbeaten streak to 10 games across all competitions.
“After tonight, it’s amazing," said head coach Jason Kreis about his team's resiliency. "I can’t say enough. We went through a lot of adversity being down a goal, down a man, and what I felt were a lot of strange decisions by the referee. Continuing to battle on – scoring a goal to tie it, then giving away a goal right after it – again I think the referee is involved there. Our guys just kept pushing and pushing and pushing, and my hat is off to them.”
“I think it was a step forward for the team because we’re down a man and a goal and we showed character to go and look for the win all the time," said Morales. "We were losing time but always looking for the lead with 10 men. So that is a good thing for me.”
RSL, playing without starters Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran and Alvaro Saborio, all called away for Gold Cup duties, went down a man when trailing 1-0 in the 59th minute. Referee Ismail Elfath controversially showed RSL defender Lovel Palmer a straight red card for a tackle on Philadelphia midfielder Michael Farfan. RSL substitute midfielder Luis Gil equalized for the Utah side in the 75th, only for Union forward Conor Casey to give Philadelphia its second lead of the night one minute later.
“It was a crazy roller coaster type of a game," said defender Nat Borchers. "We were down a goal going into halftime, creating a lot of chances and we knew we were going to get goals but we didn’t know we were going to lose a man. I mean I’m proud of the guys. The second goal is my fault and that’s what good teammates do. They pick you up when you’re down and we just kept battling and going after them. I’m just shocked we had so many chances.”
Philadelphia got off to a fast start, taking the lead through midfielder Sebastien Le Toux in the 13th minute. Casey got free on the right wing, dribbling from midfield all the way to the end line in the right side of the area before cutting the ball back and rolling a cross to the middle that an open Le Toux tapped home from inside the six.
RSL nearly equalized in the19th minute through forward Robbie Findley. Palmer started the play, making a tackle deep in RSL’s third on the right side and finding FW Joao Plata up the line to launch a counter. Plata played a give-and-go with Morales, eventually getting to the end line and curling a cross to Findley at the left post. The speedy striker did well to beat his man to the ball, but couldn’t quite keep his header on frame, sending the eight-yard effort inches wide of the right post.
The Claret-and-Cobalt went down to 10 men when Palmer was ejected in the 59th minute. The versatile Jamaican went after a loose ball in the middle of Philadelphia’s third, sliding into a challenge and catching the ball before colliding with Farfan’s leg. Elfath deemed the challenge dangerous and showed Palmer a controversial straight red.
“I think it needs to be said that that referee was not ready to referee that game," said Kreis. "That game – with a sellout crowd, July 4th, in front of our fans in that kind of atmosphere that we provide here – is too much for what I think is a very inexperienced referee that doesn’t have a good feel for the game. I don’t think it’s his fault – I’m not going to berate him for it – but I think that the person who makes that assignment ought to be thinking about that as we go forward. Just the same as a coach does with a young player who is not ready in a big game, somebody needs to think about that going forward. Referees like that aren’t ready to be involved in that type of match with that type of atmosphere.”
Despite losing a man, RSL continued to press Philadelphia after Palmer’s ejection and nearly equalized in the 73rd minute. Substitute midfielder Sebastian Velasquez made a mazy run down the left wing, playing a give-and-go with Morales before firing a well-struck 15-yarder that Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath punched away.
Gil equalized for the Claret-and-Cobalt in the 75th minute. Morales curled a corner kick in from the left side and Gil – who was making his first appearance for RSL after returning to Salt Lake City late last Friday from the U.S.’s run at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup – got on the end of it, powerfully heading inside the far post from 10 yards out.
Unfortunately for RSL, Philadelphia re-took the lead seconds later, pulling ahead 2-1 through Casey in the 76th. Substitute forward Antoine Hoppenot beat a RSL player to a ball on the right edge of the area, catching the Claret-and-Cobalt on the break and squaring to Casey in the box. The veteran striker took it from there, calmly slotting home past onrushing RSL goalkeeper Josh Saunders to give the Union the lead.
Saunders came up huge for RSL 15 minutes later, keeping the Utah side in the game with a fantastic save on Le Toux in second-half stoppage time. RSL had pushed all of its numbers forward, getting caught out when Philadelphia played a headed clearance directly to Le Toux in the middle of the pitch. Le Toux raced forward for a 1-v-1 with Saunders, who came up huge, coming off his line to cut off the Frenchman’s angle and getting low to block the effort from 15 yards out.
RSL made Saunders’ big save count in the 97th minute, when Morales finished his penalty kick to give the Claret-and-Cobalt a point. Philadelphia DF Raymon Gaddis was whistled for the penalty, raising his left arm and handling a last ditch long ball in the top of the box to give RSL the spot kick. Morales added a little bit more drama to the affair, hitting the PK off the right post and caroming it in to make it 2-2.
“I was ecstatic," said Saunders. "It is the Fourth of July and with as many fans that were here supporting us and cheering us through the game and that’s what you want to give them. You want to give them hope and the character our team showed to come back from a goal down was awesome.”
Real Salt Lake will not play again until Saturday, July 13, when it will travel to Texas to take on Western Conference foe FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium.