The only trouble with Real Salt Lake’s season-opening victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy was that by winning so impressively on the road, the team suddenly owed the home fans a similar performance.
Consider it delivered.
RSL may have failed to match last weekend’s three-goal flurry Saturday night, but nobody could complain too much about a 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here at the Rio, to borrow a phrase from the team’s new song, RSL looked every bit like a Major League Soccer championship contender in an overwhelming effort that should give this team even more believers.
"I wanted to give [the fans] what they deserved," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, "and that was our best."
How’s this for a first impression? Let’s just say another two-goal spread was the least that Real could have produced in this game, judging by its dominance from start to finish.
Real continually threatened to score, while breaking through with Fabian Espindola’s breakaway goal in the first half and Luis Gil’s drilling home a rebound of Espindola’s shot in the second half. Only some nice work by Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara kept this game from getting totally out of control.
At the other end, Espindola made the toughest save of the night for RSL, racing to catch New York star Thierry Henry on a breakaway and sliding to knock the ball away from him at the side of the net.
Yet if anything, the fact that Kreis was not completely satisfied with the game may say even more about this team’s potential. He figured the Red Bulls deserved to score, failing to take advantage of his team’s defensive failings. Kreis’ overall evaluation: "Certainly nowhere near perfect."
Those can only be frightening words to the rest of MLS.
The victory at Los Angeles made RSL the biggest story of the league’s opening weekend and created anticipation for the home opener, which was blemished only by the cold, windy conditions. The weather undoubtedly limited the attendance (16,738 announced), but the crowd was as enthusiastic as ever, while being rewarded by Real’s dominating performance.
Real lost some of its home-field aura last season, going 10-3-4 in MLS play at Rio Tinto Stadium. But the atmosphere and the outcome of the 2012 home opener looked a lot like 2010, when RSL was unbeatable at home.
These two victories to kick off the season may come with a bit of a disclaimer, considering how RSL caught the Galaxy in the middle of a Champions League series and the Red Bulls were not at full strength. Then again, Real was missing stalwarts Will Johnson and Nat Borchers, while offensive stars Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio entered as substitutes midway through the second half.
Asked about the play of their replacements, Kreis said, "We don’t have second-string players; we have players."
The likes of Paulo Araujo Jr. and Ned Grabavoy have responded well to their opportunities, while Espindola, Kyle Beckerman and others have delivered as expected.
So RSL hardly could have asked for a better beginning, beating the league’s two highest-profile, biggest-market teams, one from each coast. Kreis was wary of a slow start, because of his team’s injuries, but just the opposite has occurred.
RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey is basically dismissive of the Supporters Shield competition for the league’s best regular-season record, instead focusing on the playoffs. Yet his team’s showing in the first two games is making it difficult for anyone not to notice the standings, which, actually, is just fine with him.
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