It took five tries but Real Salt Lake finally got a win over Orlando City. The Lions decided to rest some starters and played a disjointed game, falling behind 2-0 before throwing Nani and Dom Dwyer onto the pitch to try to rescue something at Rio Tinto Stadium. It was too late, despite some late heroics from Nani.
Sam Johnson and Demir Kreilach put RSL up before the two Orlando stars came on and by that time Real Salt Lake (2-4-1, 7 points) had wrapped up a home win over the Lions (2-3-2, 8 points). It snapped RSL’s four-game losing streak and gave the Lions their first ever loss to the Utah club (2-1-2).
James O’Connor ran out an unusual lineup, opting to put all of his Designated Players on the bench, pushing Chris Mueller into the starting XI up top next to Tesho Akindele. Will Johnson returned to the midfield against his old team, alongside Sebas Mendez and Sacha Kljestan, with Ruan and Joao Moutinho as the wingbacks. The back line in front of Brian Rowe consisted of rookie Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, and Shane O’Neill, with Lamine Sané getting a night off.
The Lions held a lot of the early possession, but couldn’t really do much with it. Orlando had trouble connecting in the final third and when the Lions did get shots at Nick Rimando’s goal they didn’t make good contact, making life easy for the veteran goalkeeper.
Orlando should have taken the lead in the 11th minute. Ruan got loose down the right and made a good cross in to a streaking Moutinho, but the Portuguese youngster got his header all wrong and it ended up going well wide to the right and bounced over the line for a goal kick. Moutinho sent a shot right at Rimando two minutes later from just outside the top of the area.
Four minutes later, Real Salt Lake took the lead. The hosts took a restart quickly on a foul given by Chris Penso and ended up slipping a ball in to Sam Johnson in the penalty area. Johnson slipped and it looked like an easy clearance for Ruan, but somehow he misplayed the ball in his feet and it popped out behind him. Johnson had just gotten up and was able to smash his shot past Rowe to make it 1-0 at the 17-minute mark.
Kljestan and Demir Kreilach exchanged shots in the 31st and 32nd minute, respectively, with Sacha slipping slightly and dribbling a weak effort in to Rimando and Kreilach firing just wide of goal from distance.
Johnson was played in down the right by Kreilach in the 39th minute but he skipped his shot wide of the far post.
That was about it for a bit of an ugly first half and the hosts went to the break with a 1-0 lead. Orlando held a slight edge in shots, at 4-3 (3-1 on target), with RSL holding 53% of possession and a slightly better passing rate (79%-78%).
Instead of getting back into the game in the second half, it was Mike Petke’s RSL side that made the better adjustments, seeing more of the ball early in the second half and getting opportunities. The hosts finally took advantage of that just as O’Connor was preparing to send Nani and Dwyer into the game.
Jefferson Savarino was tormenting Orlando at the start of the second half, forcing Rowe into saves in the 52nd and 53rd minutes. Savarino then got down the right side and nobody tracked Kreilach as he made a run into the top of the area. The pass was on target and Kreilach made no mistake with the shot, giving Rowe no chance at a save and making it 2-0 in the 55th minute.
Nani and Dwyer were waiting to enter the game when the second goal went in, making the uphill battle that much tougher. Nani’s volley in the 61st minute was well saved by Rimando, who tipped the blast over the bar.
Mendez missed over the goal in the 64th as Orlando pushed numbers forward into the attack. RSL dug in deep and defended well, often cutting out the final pass or heading a dangerous cross away before it reached its intended target.
The Lions finally got on the board in the 81st minute. Dwyer drew a foul about 25 yards out in front of goal and he, Nani, and Kljestan all stood over the dead ball. It was Nani that fired through a hole in the wall and beat a diving Rimando, who got a hand to the shot but couldn’t keep it out. It was Nani’s third goal in the last two games and he’s now tied with Dwyer for the team lead in goals this season, with three.
The Lions got only a few half chances after the goal and RSL was able to see out the game. Orlando City dug a hole it couldn’t get out of in the thin air at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Orlando out-shot Real Salt Lake, 13-10 (5-5 on target) and held 56% of the possession, finishing with a slight edge in passing accuracy (78%-74%). But the Lions weren’t precise enough in the final third yet again and RSL made them pay for defensive lapses.
The big question is why both Nani and Dwyer sat to start the game when there is no midweek match. Additionally, Johnson hadn’t played in weeks due to his concussion, but was left to play the full 90 at altitude. Still, it wasn’t the starting forwards who dug the early hole and if the Lions can’t stop finding ways to concede weird goals early (like the odd bounce off Jansson’s head last week and the failed clearance by Ruan tonight), they’re in for a long year.
The Lions return home next Saturday to host the Vancouver Whitecaps at 3 p.m. ET.