Real Salt Lake escapes Colorado with 3-2 victory over Rocky Mountain Cup rival

(courtesy of Real Salt Lake) RSL signed Liberian striker Sam Johnson on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 to a designated player contract.

When Sam Johnson found the back of the net in the 53rd minute, Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke turned toward the bench, arms out and fists clenched, and screamed in elation. It was a reaction that could be described as a microcosm of emotions felt by an RSL team that had just lost two straight and accrued only 10 points in its first 10 games.

Johnson’s goal was the difference for RSL in its 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. Real snapped its two-game losing streak while handing the Rapids their eighth straight loss.

But RSL needed several strokes of luck to escape with that victory against the worst team in Major League Soccer.

“Nervy, nervy game for sure,” goalkeeper Andrew Putna told KMYU after the game.

After the first 30 minutes of play, RSL looked like it would repeat its performance from last season when it drubbed the Rapids 6-0. Luck went in the team’s favor soon after when defender Justen Glad was shown a red card on a tackle, only to have it rescinded to a yellow by the referee.

From there, Real looked like a different team, and so did the Rapids. Colorado’s Kellyn Acosta gave his team life in first-half stoppage time with a goal after the Rapids put RSL on the ropes for 10-plus minutes.

“Momentum’s gone now,” Corey Baird told KMYU at halftime when asked how RSL could keep its momentum going. "Now, their stadium’s loud, fans are cheering, they’re amped up. They got energy now.”

That energy translated into a game-tying goal for Danny Wilson, who scored his first-ever MLS goal on a corner-kick rebound that came off Baird’s head and right in front of him.

Luckily for Salt Lake, it had another goal in it. In the 53rd, Damir Kreilach dribbled to the baseline and passed backward to Johnson, perched just inside the penalty spot. Johnson got hung up for a moment, then took the shot, which deflected off of Lalas Abubakar and into the goal for the game-winner.

The Rapids had a prime opportunity to tie the game when they forced a penalty against Real. Kei Kamara went down the middle with his penalty shot and Putna dived in front of it, blocking it away with his legs.

“It felt really good after giving up that second goal,” Putna said of the save.

Then two minutes into stoppage time, Abubakar put the ball in the back of the net. But the referee called him offsides by the slimmest of margins. RSL held on until the final whistle sounded.

“Game had it all,” Rusnák told KMYU postgame. “With a bit of luck, we managed to get three points.”

RSL climbed back into seventh place in the Western Conference with the win, and will head back to Salt Lake City with the Rocky Mountain Cup. But all Albert Rusnák is thinking about is how Real prevailed on the road.

“It’s a good feeling, and the Rocky Mountain Cup on top of that is just a bit more special,” Rusnák said.

Petke told KMYU postgame that his head was pounding and he would likely wake up Sunday morning with no voice. But he said he was proud of his team’s effort.

“The guys are resilient,” Petke said. “The guys stepped up.”