Sandy • You had a feeling something big was going to happen Wednesday night as Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales prepared to take a free kick just outside the penalty box in the dying minutes against the Colorado Rapids at cold, wet and windy Rio Tinto Stadium.
After all, something always does.
StorylinesIN SHORT » Real Salt Lake extends its home unbeaten streak to 37 games in all competitions with a 1-0 win against rival Colorado.
KEY STAT » Goalkeeper Nick Rimando ranks second in league history with 76 career shutouts.
KEY MOMENT » Fabian Espindola knocks home the winning goal in the 93rd minute.
League officials are giving RSL every opportunity to succeed in the CONCACAF Champions League.
They have moved the team’s home game against the Philadelphia Union on April 23 to Sept. 3 to allow more time for rest and preparation for the second leg of the Champions League finals against Monterrey on April 27 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL plays the first leg of that series at Monterrey, Mexico, on April 20.
RSL team spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald
For an amazing fourth time in seven meetings, RSL stunned the rival Rapids with a deciding goal in the 88th minute or beyond — this time on a controversial rebound in the 93rd minute that delivered a 1-0 victory and almost magically extended its home unbeaten streak to 37 games in all competitions.
"Absolutely remarkable," coach Jason Kreis said.
And, apparently, a mistake.
RSL’s Fabian Espindola scored the winner when he jabbed home the rebound after Morales’ almost-perfect free kick caromed off the right post in front of the net, sending the announced crowd of 15,513 into a roaring rapture.
But replays showed that teammate Paulo Junior touched the rebound first, putting Espindola in an offside position before beating goalkeeper Matt Pickens.
It wasn’t called, though, and RSL hardly cared.
Espindola rejoiced at his first goal of the season after having one negated by an offside call earlier. —"I’m so happy," he said — and the team that has gutted the Rapids so many times did so yet again to maintain its perfect start to the Major League Soccer season.
It’s now 4-0-0, the only unbeaten team in the league, with a regular-season unbeaten streak that sits at 18 games, just one shy of the league record. The Rapids fell to 3-2-0 after winning the MLS Cup championship last season.
"The difference between two very competitive teams tonight was a very good free kick," Rapids coach Gary Smith said. "And I hope — I hope — a follow-up that was onside. Everyone’s telling me … somebody offside scored. I don’t know."
The Rapids did well to match RSL in the chill most of the night, even without midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and forwards Conor Casey and Macoumba Kandji — out with injuries. But midfielder Brian Mullan fouled RSL’s Jamison Olave at a crucial moment deep in the Colorado end, giving Morales a chance with the free kick.
"We’re very good at set pieces," RSL’s Nat Borchers said, "and, obviously, Javier is one of the most dangerous free-kick takers in the league. The ball almost goes in, we’re crashing the goal and that’s it. Everybody goes home happy from our camp."
The Rapids haven’t beaten RSL in five straight games dating back nearly two years, and Kreis was elated that his team was able to pull out a victory on a night that "wasn’t our best, no doubt about it."
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned the team’s third shutout of the season without much trouble, and RSL has allowed only one goal in four games — putting it far ahead of even the pace that resulted in a record-low 20 goals in 30 games last season. It has outscored foes 8-1 in league play so far.
"It’s really important that we continue our confidence, defensively," Kreis said. "I don’t remember Colorado having something that was really, really dangerous tonight against us. So I think we have to feel … good about what went into things on that side of the ball."
The team doesn’t play another league game until traveling to meet the expansion Portland Timbers on April 30, by which time it will have played both legs of the CONCACAF Champions League finals against Monterrey of Mexico.
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