COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Thirty times, Real Salt Lake pushed forward on the road against its Rocky Mountain rival, looking for a goal that could all-but cement their postseason status Sunday evening.
Despite 30 shots, including seven shots on goal, that goal never came.
Joshua Gatt scored the only goal of the match in the first five minutes, and goalkeeper Tim Howard made seven saves to earn the shutout as the Colorado Rapids defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0 to drop the visitors to eighth place in the Western Conference standings Sunday evening at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“We knew what we were playing for, but to start the game conceding a goal in the fourth minute, it just didn’t happen,” RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak told the postgame TV broadcast. “It’s a poor start in such an important game.
“I don’t think they had another chance, but we were sleeping on the side and a simple ball, a flick of a player, and a goal. It’s a shame, to be honest.”
Gatt, who had the Rapids’ only shot on goal of the match, took a backheel pass in the fourth minute from Alan Gordon and finished inside the far post, just out of reach of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
“One mistake early on cost us. We’re heartbroken because we deserved something out of that match,” said RSL coach Mike Petke, whose team is 12-12-4 since he was hired in April.
“The celebration was like they won the World Cup after — because they did. We just couldn’t put the ball in the net.”
RSL outshot the host Rapids (9-18-6) 20-2 through 85 minutes, but could not find an equalizer. The visitors had 11 shots blocked, and put just four shots on target as they pushed for a result in the Denver suburb.
Park City native Bofo Saucedo nearly pulled one back for Real Salt Lake (12-15-6) in the 90th minute, redirecting a corner kick from the top of the box that sped toward goal until Howard made a reflex save to keep the shutout.
RSL defender Tony Beltran left the match in the 28th minute with a right knee injury, according to an RSL spokesman.
Salt Lake was playing without designated player Jefferson Savorino. The young goal-scorer did not make the trip to Colorado with an injury.
RSL finishes the regular season next Sunday, Oct. 22, against Sporting Kansas City at 2 p.m. MDT in Rio Tinto Stadium. Real Salt Lake can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a loss by San Jose and FC Dallas, which could have clinched a playoff spot Sunday but lost to Seattle, 4-0.
FC Dallas ends the season against LA Galaxy, and San Jose finishes with Minnesota United. Both opponents have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Sporting KC clinched a playoff berth Sunday with a 0-0 draw at Houston. But the Kansas City side is still in contention for second place in the west.
While not eliminated from MLS Cup playoff contention, RSL knows it will need help on the final day of the regular season. But first, they will need a result.
“It won’t be easy,” Rusnak said. “We’ll have to win the last game at home, and hope and try to get some luck, as well.
“But it won’t be easy.”