[MLS]Just about everything -- the setting, the mood, the noisy sellout crowd, the stakes -- fell into place for a memorable evening Thursday as Real Salt Lake christened its new Rio Tinto Stadium with a crucial match against Red Bull New York.
The home team and the game itself, a 1-1 tie, failed to match the occasion. Both teams scuffled and flailed, the play lacked inspiration and flair, referee Terry Vaughn sent off Red Bull midfielder Juan Pietravallo after his shoe cut open a huge gash on Clint Mathis' head, and both teams scored on set plays.
Nevertheless, both teams remain within the playoff octet, and with RSL officially joining those MLS teams occupying their own facility, and the Red Bulls' own facility slated to open in a year or so, the forgettable soccer can be forgiven.
New York's Dave van den Bergh took the honor of scoring the stadium's first goal when he rifled in a partial clearance from a corner kick in the 31st minute. RSL defender Jamison Olave equalized shortly before halftime when Javier Morales' corner kick fell to his feet and he got enough on the ball to float it into the net. Neither team could maintain a crisp tempo for most of the second half, and RSL failed to convert those chances it did create while piling up a 17-10 edge in shots.
Will Johnsonshot straight at Red Bull keeper Jon Conway from a good position, and Yura Movsisyan, Johnson and Mathis all misfired. After Pietravallo's ejection in the 83rd minute, Real Salt Lake grew frustrated at its own failure to take advantage. Vaughn failed to punish Juan Pablo Angel for a two-footed lunge at RSL defender Nat Borchers, and the two players were still discussing the incident after the final whistle.
The 20,008 fans, most bundled up in rather chilly weather of 47 degrees, put on their own show for a national ESPN2 audience. A bagpiper wailed in tribute to, presumably, RSL's resident Scots, defender Ian Joy and striker Kenny Deuchar. Fans in several sections sported king's crowns ("real" translates to "royal"). Drumming and buzz reverberated throughout the facility for most of the match yet the excitement dissipated as RSL's efforts to score the winning goal fell short.
How many fans return next week and how much clamor they create may affect the playoff chase. RSL returns home next week for its last home game of the season against Western Conference rival FC Dallas, and given the tightness of the teams, ties probably won't get it done.