After an 84-minute lightning delay interrupted the first half, United (12-10-5, 41 points) lost its sixth straight away match and fell into a fifth-place tie with the Chicago Fire (two fewer game played) in MLS’s Eastern Conference. The Columbus Crew (12-8-6, 42) overtook both D.C. and Chicago with a last-minute victory over Montreal on Saturday.
Five clubs will advance to the playoffs in late October, and what seemed six weeks ago like a sure postseason berth for United is now in jeopardy. D.C. is 2-5-2 in its past nine league outings.
There were, however, signs of encouragement. Despite playing a fifth game in 14 days and missing several regulars, United displayed more fire than in recent trips and threatened several times, most notably Dwayne De Rosario’s drive off the left post in the first half.
Will Johnson’s 49th-minute header was decisive for Real (14-10-4), which ended a four-game winless stretch and extended its mastery over United in Utah to 6-0-1 since 2006.
“We created enough chances to at least tie this game and maybe sneak out with a win,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, even though it was probably one of our better games on the road.”
Midfielder-defender Andy Najar (tooth abscess), midfielder Branko Boskovic (virus) and forward Hamdi Salihi were the latest absences, joining defenders Daniel Woolard (concussion) and Robbie Russell (foot).
As a result, the bench was far from full strength and the starting backline required adjustment. Brandon McDonald moved from the center to the right side and Jakovic and Emiliano Dudar partnered in the middle.
Olsen stuck with De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy on the frontline, with Maicon Santos back from a toe injury in reserve.
The match had barely gotten underway when flashes of lightning drew closer to the stadium. At the 3-minute 15-second mark, referee Silviu Petrescu waved the players off the field.
Multiple storms passed through the valley as the sun faded, creating eerily beautiful cloud formations above the Wasatch Range and a rainbow beyond the south end of the suburban stadium.
The players were afforded 15 minutes to warm-up again before play resumed. From late afternoon until the weather ambush, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.
When play re-started, both sides released pent-up energy and attacked with vigor. Real’s Javier Morales pumped a distant shot that Bill Hamid touched over the crossbar and United’s Chris Pontius cut back in the box but curled a shot wide of the far post.