After winning five straight, RSL has now lost two in a row. A Marco Pappa hat-trick did the business for Chicago's 3-0 win.
"I'm really, really aggravated, I think is the best word," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "I'm very worried. I won’t be sleeping tonight because, for me, to take two results like this in a row at this time of year could be critical. The questions now are in front of the players, how will they react."
Pappa scored his first with a gorgeous curling ball to the far post with his right foot. Daniel Paladini poked the ball through to Pappa after a throw-in.
Paladini influenced the game even more just minutes later. The 26-year-old clipped the heels of Kyle Beckerman in midfield after the RSL captain passed the ball along. Beckerman reacted angrily, turning and head-butting Paladini. A goal down, Real Salt Lake also found itself a man down after just a dozen minutes.
Pappa doubled the lead before the half, punishing Alvaro Saborio for spurning a good chance after springing the offside play. Pavel Pardo shimmied by a defender and sliced open the RSL backline with a pass, leaving Pappa to slot the ball home with his preferred left foot.
In the second half Javier Morales entered as a substitute, making his first appearance in four months, having missed 23 matches. But despite some nice touches, Pappa made sure Morales' return was hardly celebrated when he wriggled inside from the flank and sizzled a shot past Nick Rimando to notch his hat-trick.
"When this group doesn’t have its back against the wall it tends to relax, and I think that’s what you get when a group relaxes," Kreis said. "It loses focus, it loses the discipline to do all the little things it takes for our group to win."
The win, Chicago's fifth in six matches, bumps the Fire up to 36 points, just three shy of the last playoff spot.
"We're talking in the locker with our teammates that each game is a playoff for us right now," Pappa said. "We're still alive and we need to get points, and we know the next game is going to be hard."