Sandy • Three games, eight days, nine points. Not a bad week for Real Salt Lake.
The team capped its first rugged stretch of the season with a 2-0 victory over the rival Colorado Rapids in front of 16,870 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, using goals by forwards Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola to equal the best start in franchise history and set up a marquee matchup at unbeaten Sporting KC next weekend.
“What can you say?” coach Jason Kreis said. “We have to be pleased with where we’re at right now.”
Which is the top of the MLS Western Conference, with 15 points from a 5-1-0 record that has it in the exact same spot as last season at this time.
Of course, injuries quickly derailed the high hopes then, something the team hopes it can avoid — even though it played the Rapids without injured midfielders Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy.
Nevertheless, it came out with much more fire than three days earlier in a 1-0 win over the expansion Montreal Impact, scoring early on the Rapids and never really giving them much of a chance to avoid falling to 3-2-0.
Real’s first victory in the tough stretch came at Portland last weekend.
“We wanted to bring the energy,” midfielder Luis Gil said. “That’s the big thing for us. First 15 minutes, bring the energy, and the game will go our way and we’ll be able to control the tempo.”
Yeah, that just about covers it. After spending a few minutes seemingly figuring out the Rapids’ crowded midfield approach, RSL assumed control.
It struck in the 20th minute, when Saborio ran onto a pass that teammate Tony Beltran chipped perfectly over the defense and easily beat goalkeeper Matt Pickens as he raced off his line in desperation.
That was all RSL would need to extend its unbeaten streak against the Rapids to seven games — the Rapids haven’t scored against it in 310 minutes — and post its third home shutout in four games.
But it added a controversial insurance goal after halftime when Fabian Espindola appeared to use his arm to control a through ball that landed at his feet, allowing him to elude two Rapids defenders and beat Pickens for his third goal of the season.
His players “were just up for it,” Kreis said. “Certainly, it didn’t have anything to do with good coaching. I think the guys all knew, on Wednesday night, that was a disappointing effort and everybody wanted to do better.”
That opportunity really will come now, as RSL plays its next three games — and five of the next seven — on the road.
But RSL appears up to the challenge, with a defense back to full strength and its confidence brimming in a way it was not last season, after its devastating loss in the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
“I’m proud of the clean sheet tonight,” defender Tony Beltran said. “We think we’re good enough to go out there and get a zero every time.”
Storylines RSL 2, Rapids 0
R IN SHORT • Real Salt Lake earns its third home shutout with a win over rival Colorado.
KEY STAT • The Rapids have not scored in 310 minutes against RSL.
KEY MOMENT • Alvaro Saborio scores in the 20th minute to give RSL control of the game.