Sandy • Business as usual? Certainly looked it.
That’s what Jeff Cassar preached earlier this week as Real Salt Lake officially entered the World Cup zone. The names may have looked a little different inside a jam-packed Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, but the final whistle in Sandy sounded awfully familiar to what is lately feeling like the norm.
RSL 2, Rapids 1
Colorado 0 1 — 1
Real Salt Lake 1 1 — 2
First half—1, Real Salt Lake, Plata 6 (Morales, Sandoval), 23rd minute.
Second half— 2, Real Salt Lake, Morales 4 (penalty kick), 51st. 3, Colorado, Moor 1 (Serna), 83rd.
Goalies—Colorado, Clint Irwin Real Salt Lake, Jeff Attinella.
Yellow Cards—Grossman, Real Salt Lake, 33rd Mulholland, Real Salt Lake, 44th Morales, Real Salt Lake, 64th Stertzer, Real Salt Lake, 90th+.
Referee—Mark Geiger. Assistant Referees—Sean Hurd. Joe Fletcher. 4th Official—Daniel Radford.
Colorado— Clint Irwin, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Chris Klute, Marc Burch (Danny Mwanga, 89th), Dillon Powers (Marlon Hairston, 73rd), Nathan Sturgis (Kamani Hill, 49th), Nick LaBrocca, Dillon Serna, Deshorn Brown, Edson Buddle.
Real Salt Lake—Jeff Attinella, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Tony Beltran, Luke Mulholland (Sebastian Velasquez, 90th+), Cole Grossman, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales (John Stertzer, 90th+), Joao Plata (Luis Gil, 89th), Devon Sandoval.
Another result. Another win.
RSL beat the Colorado Rapids 2-1 in the first meeting of 2014 between the Rocky Mountain rivals. Another three points came in the club’s third straight victory, upping the climb in RSL’s unbeaten start to the season to 11 consecutive matches. The longest unbeaten streak to kick off a Major League Soccer season is 12, which RSL can match next Saturday night at home against FC Dallas.
"Really encouraged for what’s to come because there are areas where we do need to improve on," Cassar said. "I think it would be foolish to say that we’ve played fantastic every game, but we’re going to get better and the guys are encouraged by that as well."
Without its captain Kyle Beckerman, without Nick Rimando, without Alvaro Saborio, RSL managed to again hike up in the crowded Western Conference standings — now with 23 points — with another result. Implants Cole Grossman, Devon Sandoval and Jeff Attinella stepped in and made things fit.
"I thought it was one of the best games we’ve played all year," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "I think when everyone understands their role and their job, and the definition of what their role is, I think you see great things from this team. And tonight, I saw 11 players and the guys that came on, completely understand their role, what was asked of them."
Forward Joao Plata continued his torrid scoring streak to kick off the season, notching his sixth goal in eight matches in the 24th minute. As he’s done several times this year, Plata fired to the far post with his left foot and by the outstretched arm of Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin. The play was set up by a nifty move from Sandoval, who maneuvered through two Rapids defenders to find Javier Morales to set up the goal.
Morales doubled RSL’s lead in the 52nd minute when he finished a penalty kick earned by Sandoval. The RSL forward was taken down by Irwin and defender Drew Moor as Morales eventually finished the penalty. The 34-year-old midfielder, captain in place of Beckerman, has now scored four goals and dished two assists in his last two outings.
"I thought [Morales] did a fantastic job tonight of finding gaps in between their two defensive midfielders, and I thought our players did a great job of finding him in those areas," Cassar said.
But the end was a bit hairy. Such is the case when tasked with protecting leads, as RSL has had to do in eight of its first 11 outings. Attinella came up with three key second-half saves on Colorado attacker Dillon Serna, including two point-blank saves at the near post.
But the Rapids, still pressing for a way to get back in the match, pulled one back in the 83rd minute when Moor shed himself free of Nat Borchers on a free kick played into the box and headed the ball into the back of the net. The previous late-game lapses and goals conceded didn’t completely peek their heads out at Rio Tinto. RSL stayed unbeaten, earned three more points and now marches on with a date with history next Saturday evening.
"It’s going to come to an end," said a smiling Attinella, "but we’re going to keep going as long as we can."
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