This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For more than 90 minutes Saturday afternoon, Real Salt Lake resembled the team that preseason predictions had bound for the playoffs. RSL controlled the tempo midfield and had most of the opportunities.
All it took, however, was one confusing moment, one crucial lack of communication to conjure images of 2006.
And while the Salt Lake players preferred to look at their season-opening 2-2 result against FC Dallas in Rice-Eccles Stadium as a glass half full, there's no denying that Carlos Ruiz's tying goal in the waning seconds of stoppage time hit most of the 18,678 spectators like a punch to the stomach.
"This happens in soccer," said RSL midfielder Chris Klein. "We're learning how to win and learning how to close out games. We didn't do that today. On the whole, we played very well."
As the fourth minute of extra time wound down, it looked as if Real Salt Lake had finally turned the tables on Dallas, a team that had dominated RSL during the past two seasons. Jeff Cunningham, Major League Soccer's leading scorer in 2006, picked up two more goals, one in each half.
The first was the result of a beautiful cross by Klein, while Cunningham poached a blocked attempt by teammate Jason Kreis for the second goal, easily beating the Dallas keeper.
"We played good football," said Cunningham, who punctuated his first score by kissing his image posted on the inner stadium wall. "If we played that way for 90 minutes I think we'll have a good chance to win a few games this year."
RSL, which shook off an early Hoops goal, applied pressure as Freddy Adu looked dangerous on the wing. Salt Lake was making Dallas goalie Shaka Hislop sweat. Mehdi Ballouchy nearly put RSL on top within the first minute as his rocket caromed off the crossbar.
However, Dallas began applying more pressure in the final 20 minutes as physical problems forced Eddie Pope and Ballouchy out of the game. It showed in the defense and RSL's ability to control the ball.
Then, as Dallas created one last attack in extra time, defender Jack Stewart blocked goalie Nick Rimando's attempt to punch the ball, which popped straight up and onto the head of Ruiz. He didn't miss.
"When the goalkeeper thinks he can get it, he has to go get it," said a disappointed RSL coach John Ellinger. "For most part, I thought we'd finish it out and get the win.
"Ruiz, that guy, no matter what, if you leave him alone for 10 seconds he can make you pay. That's what he does. He does nothing for 94 minutes and gets a goal."
Ruiz, who assisted on Dallas' first goal in the 19th minute during a defensive misplay, has now scored four times in the Hoops' last three meetings with Salt Lake.
Real, which had a closed-door team meeting after the game, must now refocus its efforts for next week's home game against Columbus.
"We were the better team for 93 minutes," said Adu, who created a handful of corner kick opportunities for Real. "The last minute they got that goal. It makes it seem like we didn't do any good.
"We played great for 93 minutes. At the end of the day, obviously everyone is disappointed we didn't get the win. We just didn't finish the game out. We're disappointed, but at least it wasn't a loss."
An optimist would say that RSL is a point better than it was at this time last season, one that saw it miss the MLS playoffs by the slightest of margins. Ellinger, though, wasn't having any of it.
"We have to close the game out.," he said. "'Here we go again. We missed the playoffs last year by two points and we just gave two points away.
"In the first half I thought we played very well. We had most of the ball. In the second half we came out and played well, got the goal. I would have liked us to keep the ball a little bit more. We tried to get in behind them, every time we had the ball."
A little more patience might have turned a loss into a win.
"We'll be angry," Pope said. We'll have an edge next week."