By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON – Two teams at opposite ends of the Major League Soccer spectrum. Two interesting takes on a scoreless draw.
Although D.C. United was able to keep its first clean sheet of the season in Saturday's 0-0 result against Real Salt Lake at RFK Stadium, the Eastern Conference bottom feeders felt like they let a couple points slip away.
Although Real Salt Lake had its franchise-best winning streak snapped at five and scored just one goal, a penalty kick, in 210 minutes (Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup match included) against United, the feeling in the visitor's locker room was a sense of accomplishment.
"It was a well-earned, hard-fought-for draw," Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said. "The most important thing was the shutout, because we've been stressing it every match for the past four, five matches and we've always found a way to come up short. To get it tonight is pleasing.
"For me, success tonight would be determined on how hard they wanted to work defensively and how committed they were to working together to defend, and they did those things."
Perhaps tempering the level of success was the right course of action for the MLS Cup holders. Six players who played 120 minutes on Wednesday started again on Saturday in repeated humid conditions that hardly resemble the dry Utah heat.
United came out with the fresher legs on Saturday, peppering Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando with early shots.
A 3rd-minute cross from Jordan Graye was almost tapped into Rimando's goal by Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers. Clyde Simms put a shot from distance on frame a minute later, and United had opportunities to score from two corners in the first seven minutes.
"They got a lot of room to play," said Rimando, a former United keeper. "A lot of guys had heavy legs, but at the same time, we bunkered in and found a way out. Sometimes we let that goal in and go down at half.
"We've been stressing that for a while. We've been winning games by three, four goals and we're still letting in a goal. If we weren't going to get the three points, we weren't going to let one up, and that was on the guys' minds."
Stephen King, acquired by D.C. from Seattle during the season, likely should have netted two second-half goals for United.
Twice he was gifted clean looks from about 10 yards out, and both times he fired off target. The misses marred what was otherwise another strong performance in central midfield.
"It's one of those games where, twice, you shoot it and you wish you had it back right away," King said. "It's one of those ties where it feels like a loss. Overall the past two weeks we've done pretty well, so in the grand scheme of things we're improving."
The biggest area of improvement for D.C. was the play of the defense, which held reigning MLS Player of the Month Alvaro Saborio off the scoresheet.
Troy Perkins was strong in goal, commanding the penalty area and reading crosses and corners to perfection. He thwarted three crosses targeting Saborio in the center of the box between the 67th and 80th minutes.
"(Saborio)'s very good in the air, and he's scored almost all his goals off crosses," Perkins said. "It's just having a sense of where he is and where they're trying to put the ball, and my defenders did a good job of making their service predictable."
Salt Lake's best chance was a 90th-minute shot from distance by Will Johnson, but Perkins was up to the task, diving to his left to prevent a late dagger.
"The guys in front of me tonight did an exceptional job of keeping the play in front of us. We frustrated the hell out of them," Perkins said. "Obviously we wanted three points to put ourselves a little higher up in the table, but a point is a point for us still. To come up with a clean sheet is very important as well."
Both teams have one more match before the two-week break for the World Cup. D.C. (2-8-1) will travel to Seattle trying to run its unbeaten streak (in all competitions) to five straight, and Salt Lake (6-3-2) will try to hand the Los Angeles Galaxy its first loss of the season.
"To come in here against a team that's on the rise and get a point is a good feeling, because we've got a tough one coming up on Wednesday," Rimando said. "(Los Angeles is) a good team. They're on a roll, they're winning without their big stars and that's a good thing for them. We like the matchup, we like being at home and we expect a good game."