After a questionable penalty call put RSL in a 1-0 hole late against the Vancouver Whitecaps, tensions flared between the two teams, with referees and security breaking up an angry scrum at the center circle.
"I'm proud of the guys," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said afterward. "… I think everybody was getting a bit frustrated. I think it was because the referee didn't control the game properly. We got frustrated. We need to have cooler heads. But it also gave us a little boost. It showed we have a lot of fighting spirit."
So when the dust settled, Salt Lake's Joao Plata delivered a scoring punch that has escaped the team often over the past few weeks, scoring a late equalizer to start a three-game homestand with a point from a 1-1 draw.
RSL (7-4-8) came into Saturday night's game concerned about the speed of Vancouver and striker Darren Mattocks.
But it should have also worried about the referee's whistle.
In the 73rd minute, Mattocks pushed deep into the RSL back line. Defender Nat Borchers' sliding challenge got some of the ball, but also took Mattocks off his feet and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Afterward, Cassar minced no words concerning the decision.
"It's not a PK," he said. "It's 100 percent not a PK. I just watched it again. I just wish the referee would be positive. I went up to him after the game and said, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Pretty sure.' It's a PK in the box in a big game. You need to be sure. It changes the game. It changes momentum."
Mattocks drove his low shot into the left corner of the net, as RSL goalie Nick Rimando dove the opposite direction. The penalty robbed Rimando of a piece of Major League Soccer history, keeping the keeper one shutout away from tying Kevin Hartman for the league's all-time record (112).
In the moments after the goal, Vancouver's Matias Laba shoved RSL forward Joao Plata, causing a center-circle dustup that resulted in multiple yellow cards. In total, referee Edvin Jurisevic handed out seven yellow cards on the night.
Plata would get his revenge in the 81st minute.
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman pushed a pass wide left and the Ecuadorian striker did the rest of the work, getting behind the Vancouver defense and slotting a shot into the far corner of the net to tie the game.
It was Plata's eighth goal of the year, but just RSL's fifth goal in its last eight MLS matches.
And it might have been a winner had the team done enough with its chances in the opening 45 minutes. The first half saw RSL dominate possession and create multiple opportunities.
In the third minute, midfielder Javier Morales curled a free kick over the wall, forcing goalkeeper David Ousted to reach up into the corner and push the shot over the bar.
In the 10th minute, Sandoval flicked the ball ahead to Plata, whose breakaway chance lacked the power it needed to challenge Ousted seriously. Minutes later, Sandoval had a chance of his own but hit it wide.
"We need that little bit of extra brilliance in the attacking third," Cassar said, "whether it's a better final pass, whether it's a better shot. We're just lacking that little bit at the end."
R A 73rd minute penalty kick puts RSL in a 1-0 hole.
• RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando remains one shutout away from tying Major League Soccer's all-time record of 112.
RSL 1, Whitecaps 1
Vancouver 0 1 1
Real Salt Lake 0 1 1
First half » None.
Second half » 1, Vancouver, Mattocks 4 (penalty kick), 73rd minute. 2, Real Salt Lake, Plata 8 (Beckerman, Mulholland), 81st.
Goalies » Vancouver, David Ousted; Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando.
Yellow Cards • Beckerman, Real Salt Lake, 17th; Laba, Vancouver, 75th; Fernandez, Vancouver, 75th; Beltran, Real Salt Lake, 76th; Ousted, Vancouver, 76th; Koffie, Vancouver, 88th; Wingert, Real Salt Lake, 90th+.
Referee • Edvin Jurisevic. Assistant Referees • Adam Wienckowski. Baboucarr Jallow. 4th Official • Daniel Radford.
Attendance » 20,265 (20,008)
Vancouver • David Ousted, Carlyle Mitchell, Steven Beitashour, Jordan Harvey, Jhonny Leveron, Nicolas Mezquida, Sebastian Fernandez (Pedro Morales, 78th), Mehdi Ballouchy (Matias Laba, 63rd), Gershon Koffie, Omar Salgado (Erik Hurtado, 65th), Darren Mattocks.
Real Salt Lake • Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran (Olmes Garcia, 78th), Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Luis Gil (Luke Mulholland, 57th), Joao Plata, Devon Sandoval (Robbie Findley, 58th).