By CAITLIN MURRAY
It was never going to be easy for Real Salt Lake to return from the World Cup break without a batch of key starters. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are in Brazil as the U.S. advances to the knockout round. Tony Beltran is suspended. Ned Grabavoy is injured.
But they managed to make it that much harder for themselves Saturday on the road against Chivas USA by going down to 10 men in only the 9th minute after a studs-up, high challenge from Luke Mulholland.
Even as RSL admirably weathered the storm strengthened by the early red card and looked like the more dangerous side in the second half, the odds stacked against RSL were too great as a beautiful Erick Torres volley was enough for a 1-0 Chivas win.
In the 33rd minute, Tony Lochhead picked out Torres across the pitch some 30 yards away and sent a bending cross his way. Torres knocked the ball one-time, sending a rocket that slipped just under the crossbar and straight into the top netting for his 10th goal of the season.
It was a masterful, perfectly-timed strike and would be the highlight of a match where Chivas often looked like they were the side short-handed.
RSL pressured hard and had the edge in possession, 57 percent to 43 percent, but Chivas sat in at times to fend off attacks, ending a four-game winless streak and recording their first shutout of the season. Chivas out-shot RSL, 19 to 8.
The loss will no doubt irk RSL coach Jeff Cassar, whose side had suffered an embarrassing 2-1 Open Cup loss to the second-tier Atlanta Silverbacks two weeks ago, a performance he publicly criticized. RSL is now winless in their last five of Major League Soccer play, but remain in playoff contention.
For Chivas, the win pulls them closer to climbing out of last place in the Western Conference as a San Jose Earthquakes loss Saturday brings the two sides within two points on the bottom of the table. Chivas head to San Jose on Wednesday to continue the last-place fight as RSL will host the New England Revolution on Friday.