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Believe it: RSL survives shootout to win MLS championship
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Robbie Russell spun and dropped to his knees, shaking his fists in triumph as his Real Salt Lake teammates raced to mob him.

Just like that, they were champions.

The veteran defender capped another stomach-churning penalty-kick shootout with the biggest strike in franchise history, lifting RSL to surely the most improbable Major League Soccer championship in league history over the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy in front of 46,011 fans at Qwest Field.

"It's a championship, man, and there's nothing better," Russell said.

Certainly didn't look like it, as the coaches and players celebrated on a raised platform after accepting their championship trophy amid a hail of glittering silver and blue confetti.

Their 5-4 victory in the shootout -- following a 1-1 draw through overtime -- capped a stunning five-game winning streak to finish the season, validated five years of building the franchise from its origin as a lowly expansion team, and delivered the first major pro sports championship to Utah in almost 40 years.

"I'm just so proud of the way we played," defender Chris Wingert said.

With good reason.

Not only did few expect RSL -- a team that barely made the playoffs with a losing record in the regular-season -- to beat Landon Donovan, David Beckham and the rest of the glamorous Galaxy, but the team did it with two of its top midfielders sick and injured, and after falling behind by a goal in the first half.

But forward Robbie Findley scored an equalizer off a deflection in the 64th minute, and RSL survived through two overtime periods to reach penalty kicks for the second straight week. And just like in the MLS Eastern Conference at Chicago last weekend, goalkeeper Nick Rimando stopped three of seven shots -- he was named the game's most valuable player -- denying the Galaxy's Edson Buddle with his last save and allowing Russell his remarkable moment.

"We believed in ourselves," forward Yura Movsisyan said. "There was no one who believed in us, other than us guys in the locker room, and we proved the whole world wrong today."

Things did not look good early, with midfielder Javier Morales suffering a knee injury in the first half and Will Johnson coming off at halftime because of food poisoning. The Galaxy's Mike Magee scored in between, but RSL's Clint Mathis and Ned Grabavoy helped their team steady itself as the game progressed.

"That's part of having a deep team," Wingert said.

RSL mostly outplayed the Galaxy in the second half, neutralizing their stars and putting pressure on back-up goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who replaced starter Donovan Ricketts just after Findley scored. Ricketts had injured his hand earlier in the game.

The team was unlucky not to have won in overtime, with both Findley and Mathis just narrowly missing into the side netting in overtime.

But once it reached penalty kicks again, the team was ready.

"We knew Nicky was going to save a couple," defender Nat Borchers said.

Indeed, Rimando stopped the Galaxy's Jovan Kirovski as well as Buddle, while Donovan -- perhaps the best penalty taker in league history -- shockingly send his try high over the crossbar. Meanwhile, Mathis, Findley, Grabavoy and Wingert all scored their penalty kicks before Russell stepped up and settled it.

"Over the next couple of days, we'll get another indicator of how important it is to Salt Lake City," coach Jason Kreis said. "I have a feeling that it's really, really important, and a really big thing for Utah."

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