Colorado Rapids midfielder Cole Bassett (26) and Real Salt Lake midfielder Nick Besler (13) tangle during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/ Jack Dempsey) (Jack Dempsey, Associated Press)
SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake manager Freddy Juarez will likely be writing a check to Major League Soccer. To him, it will be worth it.
“It’s criminal that they take something away from our guys like that,” Juarez said of the officiating immediately following a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids Saturday in Commerce City.
Sure, the Rocky Mountain Cup is a heated rivalry — shown by the numerous shoving and yelling matches near the end of the match — but RSL’s true enemy on Saturday came down to a combination of three letters: VAR.
Replay took an apparent RSL goal off the board in the first half and changed the ruling of a penalty kick in the second. So RSL left Colorado feeling like it had three points taken away, especially since Juarez and the team certainly didn’t agree with one of those decisions.
In the 34th minute, Albert Rusnak sent a free kick into the box where Justen Glad volleyed right at the Colorado keeper. The initial shot was pushed aside, but Rubio Rubin flew in and tapped in what looked like the game’s first goal.
But after a few moments, the referee mimed the dreaded box and went over to the monitor; he determined Glad was in an offside position. It couldn’t have been by much — a toe? an out-of-place hair? a slight lean? — but it was enough for him to disallow the goal, much to the chagrin of the RSL side.
“It wasn’t clear and obvious,” Juarez said. “One of the most experienced lines men in the league did not raise this flag. I’ve seen it already multiple times. I mean, come on, it’s not clear and obvious.”
The “clear and obvious” criteria is what RSL struggled with following the match. To Real Salt Lake, the replay didn’t show that it was an obvious error by the officiating crew. It was close — really close — and Juarez and his team felt such a close call shouldn’t have been changed.
“I have no idea,” Rubin said. “I’m still confused as well. … Clear and obvious is the reason why goals are disallowed. And I don’t know what the fine is for, for talking about the refs but there’s been clear and obvious calls against us that haven’t been called and we get called for one today. It hurts us.”
VAR wasn’t done playing with RSL’s emotions, though.
In the second half, after Colorado had come back with two quick goals to take a 2-1 lead, RSL appeared to have a golden chance at the equalizer.
Damir Kreilach was pulled down in the penalty area as he tried to get on the end of a cross. It was a clear, no-doubt foul, but it was deja vu for RSL when the referee once again signaled for VAR.
He went to the monitor and saw Kreilach in an offside position before the foul was committed. That meant no penalty.
Adding to RSL’s frustration was the fact Juarez and Co. felt they had played one of their better matches of the season. RSL controlled possession for much of the night and consistently generated solid scoring chances. Those finally came to fruition — for real this time — in the 51st minutes when Rusnak blasted a pass from Aaron Herrera into the top corner of net for a 1-0 lead.
“Our guys were so brave,” Juarez said. “We pressed, we didn’t allow them to pin us back for long periods of time, we were dynamic.”
Colorado got the equalizer in the 64th minute when Diego Rubio got his head on a corner kick and sent it past Andrew Putna, who replaced Zac MacMath after he sustained a right knee injury in the first half.
Seven minutes later, Colorado’s Mark-Anthony Kaye ran unmarked into the box and headed a goal in for the score.
Save for those 10 or so minutes, RSL was the better side. That made the poor luck with VAR even more hard to swallow.
“I thought they deserved more and they did deserve more,” Juarez said. “I thought it was a fantastic display. We’ve got to carry that energy on to the next games.”