SEATTLE – A quality opponent. A little misfortune. Fatigue.
That was the combination that led to Sounders FC’s phenomenal run of success coming to a disappointing end at the hands of a familiar foe.
Real Salt Lake, which eliminated Seattle in last year’s MLS playoffs, got a second-half goal from forward Fabian Espindola and held on to earn a 1-0 win Saturday in front of 39,312 at CenturyLink Field.
In what was a battle for first place in the Western Conference, the Sounders had their winning streak end at five and their unbeaten streak end at six.
Salt Lake (8-3-2) hasn’t lost in its last three regular-season games in Seattle.
“They’re an experienced team in this league and they’re one of the better teams, and so are we,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “When top teams meet, there’s sometimes not a lot that separates the two.”
Schmid thought a tie would’ve been fair, but RSL had other ideas.
Espindola put the visitors ahead for good in the 51st minute, when he split two defenders to collect a pass from midfielder Luis Gil and fired a left-footed shot past Sounders goalkeeper Bryan Meredith.
Espindola’s fourth goal of the season ended Seattle’s shutout streak at 321 minutes. It was the first goal allowed this season by Meredith, who recorded the third-longest shutout streak to start an MLS career at 275 minutes.
The Sounders had controlled more of the game to that point, especially in the first half, but it was RSL that scored got the goal.
“They waited 90 minutes, they got one chance and they put it into the net,” said forward Fredy Montero. “That was the difference in the game.”
The Sounders (7-2-1) pressed hard for an equalizer, starting with a 71st-minute header by Montero that went wide. Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez made a nice run down the right side 2 minutes later, but couldn’t connect for a pass in front of the goal.
Second-half substitute Cordell Cato also created some late chances for the home team.
He had a dangerous cross into the penalty box in the 87th minute, but it was cleared on a diving punch by goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
A minute later, Cato had an open look in front of the goal, but couldn’t get off a shot. Until the final seconds, the Sounders continued to push desperately toward the RSL goal, but nothing could get past Rimando, who earned his fourth shutout.
Ultimately, Seattle would post eight shots (none on target), six corner kicks and 30 crosses.
It was a frustrating end to what had been an exceptional run of five games in 15 days.
Seattle was hoping to become the third team in MLS history to win five games in that short span.