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Originally published August 16, 2014 at 5:49 PM | Page modified August 16, 2014 at 9:10 PM

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Real Salt Lake beats Sounders, 2-1, in Western Conference showdown

RSL scores twice early in the second half to take control, then holds off a rally by the Sounders to move into first place in the Western Conference.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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SANDY, Utah – Goals rarely tell the whole story.

There are too many moving parts in a soccer game for that: the individual battles, the formational changes, the tackle at the other end that sparked the decisive break. The goals — and the cold, hard arithmetic of the scoreboard — are just the flashpoints.

But they did a thorough job of narrating Seattle’s 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, one that dropped the Sounders a point behind RSL in the Western Conference standings, albeit with two games in hand.

The Sounders had made it to halftime at 0-0, doggedly if unconvincingly. They were the side playing in its third competitive game in six days, the one on the road, the one with the extra games in its back pocket.

Real Salt Lake had an opportunity to top the table for the first time all season.

“We had to claw back into it,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said.

“We were really up for it. We were excited for the game and we felt like this was a huge opportunity that we earned. It was up to us to take advantage of that.”

Salt Lake had 62 percent of the possession in the first half and nearly double Seattle’s shots.

Then, Luke Mulholland lifted a 53rd-minute free kick toward the back post, where all 5-foot-2 of Joao Plata rose above his nonexistent marker to head the ball in.

“The first goal was the one that, when you’re tired, having played a full game on Wednesday, the third game in six days, that one takes the air out of the balloon a little bit,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.

Four minutes after that, the Sounders gave the ball away at the top of their box. Luis Gil pounced, Mulholland deflected the through ball off Osvaldo Alonso and RSL was in full command.

“In the second half, we made two individual mistakes,” Schmid said. “We have a player lose his mark on Plata and he heads it in and then we have a ball that we can clear and we don’t clear it. Those two individual mistakes cost us at the end.”

A clean summary of a first hour, one in which a sharper RSL turned its more consistent pressure into a lead.

Then the action shifted to the other end.

Clint Dempsey was spurred to action by the second goal after floating in and out of play before it. He started dropping deeper to link play before storming forward. It was his deflected shot that eventually led to Chad Barrett’s appropriately gritty headed goal in the 72nd minute.

The Sounders pushed forward through the final 25 minutes — Chad Marshall nearly hammered a redirected header from Dempsey on goal, and Barrett ran a ball across the line in stoppage time.

“When you consider everything: Us having to travel, the amount of games we played, for us to come back from 2-0 to 2-1 and then continue to put chances forward, I thought it was a good character showing from our team.” Schmid said.

The cold, hard arithmetic is this: His team will wake up Sunday morning looking up at another team in the Western Conference standings for the first time since April.

But that doesn’t always tell the full story, not with so much of it still to be told.

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