Sandy • Striking first is turning into a sort of speciality for Real Salt Lake.
In eight of its 11 matches, still-unbeaten RSL (6-0-5) has drilled a ball into the back of the net first and taken a lead, whether inside the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium or in respective stadiums around Major League Soccer. That trend continued Saturday night in Sandy as RSL’s 24th-minute goal, supplied by forward Joao Plata, put the home team ahead of its rival, the Colorado Rapids.
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"We’ve done well, especially in the first half to really go at teams, but like I said, to create clear chances and to put them away and be good with them — we had a number of chances in the first half — it just seems like we’re getting contributions from a lot of players in the final third and guys in some different spots," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy following RSL’s 2-1 win.
Tied with the league-leading Seattle Sounders in goals scored at 23, RSL does have a match in hand on its Western Conference rival, which has played 12 matches. The fluidity of RSL’s attack early in matches has often set a tone for the club to impose itself on the opposition. Putting teams on their heels early on is vital to nabbing results.
"We want to get better, but we’re certainly not trying to peak right now," said defender Chris Wingert. "We’ve won different ways, sometimes we have played really well. I think our first goal [Saturday] was pretty nice, knocking the ball around, then still being able to come in and make it hard for [Colorado] to play at times, which is good."
Only three times this season has RSL failed to take a lead. It fell behind six minutes at San Jose on March 15, but rallied to score three unanswered goals before the Earthquakes equalized in the 95th minute of play to earn a 3-3 draw. A 0-0 result at Sporting Kansas City on April 5 saw neither side grace the back of the net. The lone stretch in which RSL trailed this season is when it went down 2-0 less than 30 minutes in at Chicago on May 3, which eventually turned into a dramatic 3-2 stoppage-time win over the Fire.
Protecting leads — early or late — has been either successful or disheartening at the end of matches as the club has dropped three points on three different occasions after conceding late goals. But on Saturday night, RSL held strong when the Rapids pressed numbers forward and snagged a goal in the 83rd minute.
"Credit to us," said goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. "If you watch a lot of the MLS this year, this has been happening a lot where teams are getting down and coming back. Hopefully we learned from our last home game. They got one, but they didn’t get the second, which is the most important."
Essentially one-third through the 2014 season, RSL continues on with a zero in the loss column. The offensive output has been a major development under Jeff Cassar and the new coaching staff, but as players reiterated after Saturday’s win over the Rapids, being unbeaten doesn’t allow for a lack of cleaning things up.
"Anytime you can have the lead, it’s obviously better than playing from behind," Grabavoy said, "but there’s still some things we can work on, for sure."
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