Fireworks fly on the field as RSL and New England battle to a draw on Independence Day
Salt Lake played a man down for 87 minutes after Nat Borchers was sent off but still managed to climb back from a two-goal deficit to earn a point.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Andy Williams summed it up: “Fourth of July fireworks. That’s what you guys wanted, right?”
Saying this match had fireworks would be an understatement. The game turned controversial before most fans had even found their seats. A long goal kick by Matt Reis in the third minute somehow bounced over the RSL defense and found Benny Feilhaber. As Feilhaber worked his way into the box, Borchers stuck out his foot to block the shot and both players went tumbling to the turf.
Referee Yader Reyes blew the whistle for a penalty, and also sent Borchers off with a straight red card. Rajko Lekic converted the penalty, putting RSL down a man and a goal early in the match. Replays showed that both the penalty kick and the red card to Borchers were undeserved, yet the match was irreparably altered from that point on.
Wisely, head coach Jason Kreis warned the media before his press conference, “Don’t ask any questions about the referee because I have zero comment.”
It appeared that RSL had settled down and might be able to climb back into the match, but New England shocked Real again in the 16th minute. Chris Tierney took a low, hard free kick from 25 yards out that somehow snuck through the wall and beat Nick Rimando to his left.
Tierney’s stunning strike put Salt Lake down two goals while still down a man, and it appeared that RSL was destined to its second home loss of the year.
But after that, the momentum shifted firmly in Real’s favor and it managed to pull a goal back in the 24th minute. Alvaro Saborio was dragged down at the top of the box by Ryan Cochrane, earning Cochrane an important yellow card in the process. On the ensuing free kick, Williams tagged a curling ball off the post and the rebound fell to Will Johnson for the easy tap-in, moving the deficit down to one.
“We got ourselves into a hole, but we dug out of it,” said Williams. “We didn’t panic at all, even down 2-0 and down a man. Give credit to the guys - they stuck in there.”
The second half was more of the same, and Real found its equalizer shortly after kickoff. A cross in the 54th minute hit Kevin Alston’s hand as he defended the cross down on the byline, and Reyes pointed to the spot. Saborio stepped up to take the PK and finished it as he froze Reis on his line. At that point, it appeared that RSL’s improbable comeback was complete.
But the scoring was not over yet, and in the 63rd minute Salt Lake again found themselves trailing in the match. The Revolution had yet another free kick from outside the RSL box, and this time Feilhaber floated a cross into the area where Shalrie Joseph flicked it off the post and into the goal to put New England up 3-2, and once again RSL was looking up at its opponent.
Kreis described himself as “aggravated” after working so hard to level the match, only to watch it slip thanks to another soft goal.
Salt Lake got a bit more help with its second comeback bid when Cochrane earned his second yellow for hauling down Williams. With the match now leveled at ten men per side, the momentum shifted even more in RSL’s favor.
Then in the 83rd minute, RSL finally capped the scoring. Saborio held up a ball from Jamison Olave with his back to the goal and tucked it through the New England defense to Espindola who was running through. Espindola took one touch, sized up Reis, and fired it past him.
“I am happy, happy,” said Espindola, who has been nursing a nagging hamstring injury for some time. “I was just thinking about going forward and helping the team, and I was able to finish.”
Espindola’s goal completed not just one but two improbable comebacks in one wild night for RSL.
“My takeaway from the match is that I’m really, really proud of our guys,” said Kreis. “I just couldn’t be prouder. To fight the way they were and dominate the game is remarkable to say the least.”
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