Sandy • The team’s captain was nursing a hamstring injury picked up amid a stretch of summer he joked had him unsure about the day or the month.
The team’s opponent had been a historical pain, losing only once in a dozen games since 2007.
And coming off an emotional Open Cup semifinal win Wednesday night, Real Salt Lake was worried about the potential for a letdown against a tough Houston Dynamo team.
RSL forward Alvaro Saborio extended his scoring streak to four straight matches, beating Houston’s Tally Hall on a 37th-minute penalty kick in front of more than 19,400 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium and snapping RSL’s three-game winless streak in league play Saturday night.
“All in all, I’m really pleased that we got a result in a different way than we typically do, and that’s important,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis, who moved away from his preferred diamond midfield formation for just the third time all year. “As you start to enter this stretch and in the playoffs, you have to feel like you can win in multiple ways.”
Forward Olmes Garcia earned the penalty kick for RSL when he was undercut while jumping into the air for a ball in the box.
Hall dove to his right and Saborio casually went the other way for his second penalty kick goal in as many league games, and his sixth goal in four matches since returning to Salt Lake from Costa Rica last month.
A back line of Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Carlos Salcedo helped preserve the shutout, seriously limiting Houston’s chances on the night. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando had three saves, and the Dynamo never really threatened.
It was Salt Lake’s first shutout in five matches. Just as importantly, it ended a run of three straight games in which RSL gave up second-half leads.
“The real focus this week was to not give up a goal and get back to getting those shutouts,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “We didn’t want to make a trend of giving up late goals.”
It wasn’t a beautiful victory, but the win gave RSL another critical three points and assured the team another week at the top of the Major Leauge Soccer table.
“Tonight for me was not great Real Salt Lake soccer,” Kreis said. “This was grinding soccer that we defended with our hearts and our souls.”
Instead of the team’s usual 4-4-2 formation, Kreis opted for a 4-2-1-3 that employed RSL’s three most dynamic strikers: Saborio, Garcia and Joao Plata.
“I woke up Thursday morning with a quandary on my hands about how to get fresh players on the field, and how to get guys I thought have been really, really good a starting opportunity without changing the spine of the team,” Kreis said of the formation change.
The strategy paid off, as Houston was forced to change its formation, and RSL picked up its third victory in just the third time moving away from the diamond this year.
Playing on the wings, Garcia and Plata got into some dangerous positions. Plata very nearly scored for Salt Lake, cracking the crossbar in the 33rd minute.
RSL now has 39 goals on the year, and Saborio has been key in that. In four games since returning to RSL, the Costan Rican striker has tallied six goals. With 10 league matches remaining, Salt Lake is set to easily break the franchise record of 46 goals, set just a season ago.
R Forward Alvaro Saborio scores his sixth goal in four games.
• RSL coach Jason Kreis goes away from his diamond midfield for the third time this season. Salt Lake has won all three matches.