Frisco, Texas • With four starters out on national team duty, another key player suspended and an injured goalkeeper, it didn’t exactly seem like a good night for Real Salt Lake to break another curse.
But RSL did exactly that Saturday night, beating FC Dallas 3-0 to win in Texas for the first time in club history.
Storylines Real earns another 1stAfter snapping a winless streak in Canada two weeks ago, RSL wins for the first time in Texas, putting its record in the state at 1-18-3.
» Javier Morales scores the eventual game-winner in the 39th minute.
The victory pushed Salt Lake’s unbeaten streak to eight games and raised its MLS-leading point total to 37, six ahead of slumping FCD (8-5-7) in the Western Conference standings.
But more than that, it ended an astounding string of frustration in the Lone Star State. RSL (11-5-4) entered the game 0-18-3 in all competitions at Dallas and Houston, and was 0-11-2 at FC Dallas.
It was merely the latest bogeyman banished by RSL this season. On June 29, Salt Lake broke another drought by defeating Toronto, winning for the first time in Canada after 10 attempts.
When the players returned to the locker room after Saturday’s win, they were greeted by a message on the white board: "Year of Firsts."
"It’s a relief, to be honest with you," defender Nat Borchers said. "The deck was stacked against us a little bit. But we had a really good vibe coming here this time around. We’re on a good run, we’re playing well, we’ve been finishing our chances, defending well. I think we were due."
Playing in an unfamiliar 4-3-2-1 formation because of the absence of a large chunk of its regular lineup — including captain Kyle Beckerman, leading scorer Alvaro Saborio and keeper Nick Rimando — RSL struggled to create scoring chances in the first half. But while FC Dallas had the advantage in shots, 13-6, and possession, it was Salt Lake that struck first, turning a dangerous FCD opportunity into a stunning goal.
FCD — perhaps the league’s most productive team on set pieces — had a free kick from 25 yards in the middle of the field. But after free kick specialist passed up the kick and Jair Benitez blasted his shot into the RSL wall, the carom ignited the counterattack.
RSL defender Abdoulie Mansally’s sliding pass bounced off Dallas defender Zach Loyd, leaving midfielder Javier Morales one on one with Loyd on the left side. Morales slyly slipped the ball between Loyd’s legs and past stunned goalkeeper Raul Fernandez into the far corner for a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute.
"He was waiting for me to cut and shoot, so when he opened his legs, I thought I could play it between," Morales said. "I like to do that because the goalkeeper, he never expects me to shoot like that. … Lucky for me, because it was a goal."
Morales, who was also credited with assists on the other two goals, has stepped into the captain’s role with Beckerman gone, a role he has taken to heart. He also contributed a goal and an assist in last week’s tie at Philadelphia.
"He was incredible again tonight," coach Jason Kreis said of Morales. "He’s a player so many people had written off, including some people in our club, actually. So for us to continue to believe in him and him to believe in himself and to be so hungry to make something happen this year, I couldn’t be more pleased."
RSL’s night took a decided turn for the worse in the 49th minute, when goalkeeper Josh Saunders, filling in while starter Rimando is with the U.S. team, went down with a sprained ligament in his left knee and was replaced by untested rookie Jeff Attinella.
But Attinella and the defense held firm, and RSL put the match away in the 79th minute with Ned Grabavoy’s blast from the penalty spot off a slick feed from Abdoulie Mansally. Olmes Garcia added a score in the 90th for the final margin that made history.
Not that Kreis noticed.
"It’s an important result against a very good team in their stadium," he said. "Right now we’re in first place and they’re in second, and that’s where the importance lies, not in trying to get a first win here or there. That stuff’s all secondary.
"But it’s good because I never won a game here. Even when I was playing, I’d come back here and usually get beat. Yes, it feels good."
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