Whenever the scoring begins with a Kasey Keller own goal, the odds are quite good it's going to be a very strange day. But no matter what the odds say, few games are this strange. Two sending-offs before the end of the first half, a missed penalty for the Sounders and some frankly shocking refereeing conspired to give the game a somewhat surreal quality, but in terms of what happened on the field it was a frustrating 90 minutes for Seattle and a deserved win by a Real Salt Lake side that came into the game with a plan and executed it perfectly. Any time a team can do that they give themselves a chance to win and the Sounders certainly didn't do themselves a whole lot of favors.
The visitors got on the board first in the 12th minute after Kasey Keller appeared to suffer a rare bout of indecision and spilled Fabian Espindola's dangerous cross into his own net. The Sounders had a chance to get right back into things almost exactly three minutes later when Mike Fucito was tripped up by Robbie Russel in the area and awarded a penalty. Mauro Rosales stepped up to the spot, sent Nick Rimando the wrong way, and...shanked the ball just wide of the post. No one in the stadium seemed more surprised than Rosales, but the Sounders continued to press and look dangerous rather than allowing the missed conversion knock them off stride. Still, despite their ability to put Real Salt Lake under fairly consistent pressure, there was a disjointedness to their play that hadn't been evident in quite some time. Sloppy may be too strong a word, but the attack seemed out of rhythm once it made its way into the final third. Despite the amount of time the ball spent in Real Salt Lake's final third, it very much felt like the Sounder were going to need a break if they hoped to bring things level.
It looked like the Sounders had gotten that break in the 35th minute when Tony Beltran was shown a second yellow card. It quickly became apparent, however, that Mark Kadlecik had forgotten that Beltran had been previously booked, as it took a good 30 seconds for the red card to come out. It didn't take long for Kadlecik to "make amends", either; four minutes later Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was shown one of the most shockingly soft straight red cards you'll ever see, sent to the showers for an elbow to the face of Alvaro Saborio that, somewhat inconveniently for Kadlecik's performance review, never actually came close to occurring. Here's Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis on the matter:
I would go further and say I don't think Seattle's red card was warranted. I don't think their player elbowed Alvaro Saborio on purpose.
The sending off had "makeup call" written all over it, and due to the Sounders having been forced to burn a sub in the 31st minute due to a hip injury sustained by Erik Friberg and playing down a goal Seattle opted to play three at the back, with two-thirds of the defense being Tyson Wahl and James Riley who persisted in joining the attack. The Sounders kept threatening and threatening, often leaving just one defender to protect against Real Salt Lake counter attacks. Things finally came together for Seattle right at the stroke of half time when Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales combining for one of the Sounders prettiest goals on the year. Montero quickly flicked onto the left wing in space and Rosales ran onto the ball, flicked a reverse-ball into Montero who controlled brilliantly and drilled the ball into the roof of the net.
That would be it in terms of highlights for Seattle. Alvaro Saborio took advantage of Seattle's compromised back line to nab the winner in the 56th minute, finding space after a failed clearance by Tyson Wahl and firing low past Kasey Keller. Real Salt Lake from there shifted into "protect" mode, playing at least eight and sometimes nine men behind the ball, and though Seattle came achingly close on several occasions their chances-some of them absolutely gilt edged-went begging. It's never good to lose, especially for the first time in over a month (and for the first time at home in nearly three and a half months) but it was going to happen eventually and there were reasons to think it was a bump in the road rather than the start to a worrying trend. Most of the ingredients that powered the Sounders recent run of success were there; possession heavily favored Seattle (65%-35%) and plenty of dangerous sequences were created, but the final ball and finishing ability were largely absent. The majority of the time, Kasey Keller handles Espindola's cross and Mauro Rosales converts that penalty. As an isolated loss, the biggest disappointment is that the Sounders hopes of winning the Supporters Shield appear well and truly dead.
But it will also be interesting to see how the Sounders react. Seattle has a chance to all but wrap up their spot in the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday when they travel to Costa Rica to face Herediano. Their next league game takes place on Saturday against a DC United side that is better than they're often given credit for but nonetheless a team Seattle should beat at home. If there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about Seattle's performance against Real Salt Lake, we'll know by this time next week. But for now, it appears like an off-day for the Sounders that a very good opponent was able to take advantage of.