KANSAS CITY, Kan. — No Nick Rimando, no Tony Beltran and no Chris Wingert — no problem for Real Salt Lake.
Minus three invaluable defensive starters for Saturday’s highly anticipated MLS Cup rematch at Sporting Kansas City, a trio of reserves stepped in and played terrific soccer amid difficult circumstances as RSL eked out a hard-earned 0-0 draw at Sporting Park.
The result was another testament to RSL’s depth.
“We feel confident sliding guys into certain spots. I think we showed that last year, and we’re prepared to show that again this year,” said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. “A couple freak little injuries and some guys had to step up and they played well.”
Rimando and Beltran picked up injuries with the U.S. national team Wednesday, while Wingert was unavailable because of a groin injury he picked up the week before.
As dodgy as the prospects looked on paper with Rich Balchan and Abdoulie Mansally making rare starts at the back, Jeff Attinella made nine saves and reminded everyone why RSL should be just fine if Rimando heads to the World Cup later this summer.
“He commanded his box, but we have a ton of confidence in Jeff. He’s been training extremely well this year, and he’s playing extremely well in practice,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. “We talked early in the week about taking your opportunities and running with them and Jeff did that tonight.”
Attinella’s heroics helped Real Salt Lake remain unbeaten at 2-0-3 season this season, one of only two remaining unbeaten teams in MLS.
It didn’t take Attinella long to settle into his first start since last October. In the 11th minute he stopped a breakaway shot by RSL hater Dom Dwyer after the Kansas City striker made a darting run in behind the defense.
“I just saw him coming. I wasn’t sure if he was offside,” said Attinella. “He opened up his hips a little bit and I had a good feeling he was going to my left and just able to get a hand on it.”
In the 27th minute, Kansas City’s Seth Sinovic uncorked a shot from distance that Attinella elevated just quick enough to tip over the crossbar.
His brightest moment, however, probably came in the 34th minute. After a deflected Matt Besler long throw-in fell into the path of onrushing Benny Feilhaber, the SKC midfielder unspooled a cannon from the top of the box that Attinella read perfectly for the diving save.
On a night when RSL’s attack lacked the necessary quality to generate much of anything going forward, one goal probably would’ve been enough for Kansas City to claim the full three points — but Attinella made sure it never happened.
Grabavoy wasn’t surprised at all.
“We train with Jeff everyday. He’s a great goalkeeper and a very capable backup to the best goalie in the league,” he said.
In the 63rd minute, Attinella got some help from the post and then Nat Borchers in a crazy sequence that nearly broke RSL’s back.
The post made the first save after Dwyer again got behind RSL’s defense. Chance Myers’ chipped pass sprung Dwyer, forcing Attinella to come way off his line at the right edge of the penalty area. Dwyer beat Attinella to the ball, but Attinella forced him deep enough to the end line, creating a very acute angle to shoot at.
Dwyer’s shot, however, bounced off the post and straight to an unmarked Sal Zizzo 10 yards from goal. Miraculously for the visitors, he fired his shot straight at Borchers, who raced to the goalmouth to cover for the vacated Attinella.
Despite the frustrating near misses, Kansas City continued applying pressure throughout the second half, putting the visitors under heavy pressure. RSL finally got some reprieve in the 83rd minute when Oriol Rosell was shown a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on RSL substitute Devon Sandoval.
“Their pressure is all over the field. I think there were a few times we could’ve played out and got at them, but we didn’t. Our touch, our passing, our first touch was off a little bit, but that’s a credit to Kansas City for their pressure,” said Cassar.
Grabavoy said the draw is a credit to RSL’s versatility.
“We didn’t have our best soccer tonight, but credit to our team. We showed we can get a result in a different way and I think that’s something positive to build on going through the season,” he said.
Real Salt Lake returns to action next Saturday in Philadelphia in its fourth away game to start the season.