By Matt Gaschk
SEATTLE – There was a sense of disappointment in the Sounders FC locker room after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
There was also perspective.
The loss ended Seattle’s winning streak at a club-record five matches, their unbeaten streak at six and their shutout streak at 321 minutes.
The match ended a string of five matches in 15 days that saw the Sounders use 17 different starters because of injury, suspension and fatigue.
“I think maybe fatigue affected us because our movement up front wasn’t as active as it was in the first half,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “But at the end it’s not an excuse. We had enough chances in the first half that we needed to get a goal. Overall, I can’t fault our guys for what they’ve done over the last five games.”
Bryan Meredith finished with three saves, but Fabian Espindola netted the difference-maker in the 51st minute and the Sounders were unable to crack the Salt Lake defense.
The match was high on action in the middle-third of the field for the first ten minutes and the Sounders finally connected into the attacking third in the middle of the first half.
After a pair of chances in the box, Eddie Johnson did a quick step-over, then burst past Chris Wingert, only to miss high with his shot in the 16th minute.
That remained the highlight until the teams reached halftime scoreless.
The start of the second half saw Real Salt Lake regroup and they caught the Sounders on a quick counter to take the lead.
Luis Gil tried to lead Alvaro Saborio on a run, but put the ball behind him and Saborio touched it back to Gil. On his next effort, he bounced a ball into the box that eluded Adam Johansson and found the left foot of Espindola on the half-volley for a shot that left Meredith with no recourse, finding the back of the net inside the right post.
“We had a couple of turnovers in that period of time – those three or four minutes from the 48th to the 52nd minute we had some turnovers that we shouldn’t have had,” Schmid said. “That put us on our back foot and then the ball skipped through.”
Seattle continued to press for the equalizer, but Salt Lake’s defense was unwavering. Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez returned to the pitch for the first time since a quad strain forced him out of the previous five matches and provided a spark for the final 32 minutes, but the Sounders were unable to register a shot on goal.
“Whatever their game plan was, it worked – a credit to their back four,” Johnson said. “They were hard to break down. They were really physical. They really played us out of the game.”
The loss drops the Sounders to 7-2-1, but keeps them in a tie with the San Jose Earthquakes for second in the MLS standings.
Espindola's goal ended Meredith’s shutout streak at 275 minutes, the third-longest streak to start an MLS career in league history. That goal was also the first from the run-of-play since the season-opener on March 17.
“You’re going to give up goals. If you think you’re not, you’re going to be devastated when you do,” Meredith said. “It happens. You just get over it and get past it and get back to work on Monday.”
The Sounders will take a day off on Sunday, then return to training on Monday to prepare to open the Cascadia Derby in their next match, March 19 at BC Place against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Sounders FC – None.
Real Salt Lake – Fabian Espindola (Luis Gil) 51.
Sounders FC – Eddie Johnson (caution) 54.
Real Salt Lake – Alvaro Saborio (caution) 70.
Sounders FC – Bryan Meredith, Adam Johansson (Alex Caskey 82), Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Marc Burch, Mauro Rosales (Cordell Cato 75), Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Rose, David Estrada (Alvaro Fernandez 58), Eddie Johnson, Fredy Montero.
Real Salt Lake – Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Chris Wingert (Chris Schuler 20), Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil (Jonny Steele 75), Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio (Yordany Alvarez 81), Fabian Espindola.