Tuesday , September 24, 2013 - 12:41 AM
When Seattle wraps up its first Supporter’s Shield in a few weeks, the Sounders should be sure to send Steven Lenhart a thank you gift.
After all, with two flicks of his head, he turned what promised to a thrilling race to the finish of the Major League Soccer season into a stride into the end zone.
Sure, Real Salt Lake trails Seattle by just two points in the race, but by failing to secure even a point at home in its 2-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday, combined with the potential six points from two matches in hand that the Sounders hold, leave the Claret-and-Cobalt’s chances all but quashed.
Central defender Nat Borchers, who was charged with marking Lenhart on both plays, didn’t back down from taking the blame.
“We talked about it all year, about how we have to be better at set pieces. We watched the tape. They were taking early set pieces, and I hold my hand up for both goals,” Borchers said. “I was marking Lenhart. He just got inside of me both times. A guy like that in the box is going to bury his chances. We just couldn’t get out. He’s a tough guy to play against and obviously he got the better of me today.”
It’s commendable for Borchers, a mainstay in Salt Lake’s defense and clearly one of the team leaders, to step up to the plate and take the blame, but he’s hardly alone in being to blame for the loss.
While Real Salt Lake enjoyed clear advantages in shots and possession, the team just wasn’t good enough in many aspects, especially in the attacking third.
Those mistakes in the attacking third ended up allowing San Jose to both thwart RSL’s attempts to equalize, while at the same time letting the Earthquakes turn to rapid counters to create their own chances.
“We just weren’t quite good enough in the attacking third of the field,” RSL boss Jason Kreis said. “There were a lot of players in the box – a lot of players to deal with and move around – and we needed some special plays, but we just didn’t quite get them tonight.”
And now, after leading the MLS for nearly four months, Real has dropped back-to-back matches and is in danger of losing months of hard-won momentum with just four matches left.
The consecutive losses put an extraordinary amount of pressure on Salt Lake to come out of this weekend’s road match at Vancouver with at least a point to keep is position in the upper half of the Western Conference table and ensure it’s not forced in the mid-week playoff match was the fourth or fifth seed.
In addition to the stretch run of the MLS season, Salt Lake also needs to use this weekend as a new springboard of momentum ahead of next week’s U.S. Open Cup final against D.C. United.
“We have to focus and improve our soccer and our team,” RSL midfielder Javier Morales said. “If we want to be in the MLS Cup we have a lot of work to do.”
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at email@example.com.
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