Sandy » The gales of rain did not begin falling until late in the game, long after Real Salt Lake's Robbie Findley had finished pouring all over the defending champion Columbus Crew.
In one of the most spectacular performances in franchise history, the third-year striker scored three times for his first career hat trick, and set up one final strike in a dominating 4-1 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium -- putting to rest fears that last week's season-opening road loss portended trouble for a team trying to build on its first Major League Soccer playoff appearance last season.
"I think the last time I got three goals, I was a little kid," Findley said. "So it feels good."
Although many fans stayed away because of the threat of bad weather -- only 11,806 attended, comprising the smallest home-opening crowd in team history -- Findley and his teammates made their first season opener at their new stadium an event to remember. With the Crew missing one of their best players because of international duty, RSL controlled almost the entire game, creating scoring chance after scoring chance against the team it nearly met in last season's MLS Cup championship game.
In fact, it could have scored six or seven goals, had striker Yura Movsisyan converted on some of the brilliant opportunities he enjoyed throughout the game.
"We didn't need 'em," Movsisyan joked.
Seriously, though, Movsisyan credited his fellow striker with "unbelievable finishing," and said that RSL equalling the most goals it has ever scored in a league game ought to shut some mouths.
"A lot of people doubt we can score," he said, "and this is the proof to them that -- you know what? -- we're for real. You guys have to stop doubting us. We can score, we can score from anywhere, and this was a good team performance."
Coach Jason Kreis felt the same way, and acknowledged being perplexed at the perception that RSL did not play well in its 2-0 loss at Seattle last weekend. The only difference, he said, was that his team converted some of its chances against the Crew.
"We scored goals tonight," he said.
Started early, too.
The game wasn't even two minutes old when Findley left-footed the rebound of teammate Will Johnson's blocked free kick past goalkeeper William Hesmer from the top corner of the box.
"We had talked before the game how an early goal was what we needed for our confidence," Kreis said.
Indeed, even after the Crew equalized when Jason Garey put home a corner kick that had deflected off RSL's Clint Mathis in the 22nd minute, RSL did not "fold up shop" the way Kreis recalled it so often did in the past. Instead, it kept coming, and just seven minutes later, Findley was rewarded again -- intercepting Hesmer's attempted clearing pass at the top of the box and calmly dribbling around him for his second goal.
"I had him beat, and I took a look over my shoulder and saw that I had time," Findley said. "I just wanted to make sure it went into the net."
His third goal might have been the most impressive, though.
The 5-foot-9 Findley won a header in the box between two Crew defenders to knock home a terrific cross from Movsisyan in the 62nd minute to bury the Crew. Even then, he wasn't finished, stealing a ball five minutes later to set up the play -- an open Movsisyan blast, deflected out of bounds -- that led to midfielder Kyle Beckerman making it 4-1 with a header off a Mathis corner kick.
"We're at home, in front of our fans," Findley said. "And coming off that game last weekend, I think it was critical that we came out and played the way we like to play and know how to play and get the W."
IN SHORT » Real Salt Lake wins a home opener for the first time since its inaugural season, blasting defending champion Columbus 4-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
KEY STAT » Striker Robbie Findley scores three goals for his first career hat trick.
KEY MOMENT » Findley puts back the rebound of a blocked free kick not even two minutes into the game, setting the tone for a dazzling display.