Sandy • Sebastian Saucedo whipped a pass across the field to Jefferson Savarino in the second half, and all he had to do was take a few touches and shoot for a good opportunity on goal. Instead, Savarino over-dribbled and an Atlanta United defender forced him to give up the ball out of bounds.
It was a frustrating moment for Savarino, who visibly showed his displeasure as the ball rolled out of bounds. But it was only a matter of time until he redeemed himself.
With Real Salt Lake on the verge of tying Atlanta — last season’s Major League Soccer champion — and the game in the final seconds of a three-minute stoppage time, Savarino dribbled around a hounding defender and shot the ball. His strike found the back of the net, the crowd erupted, coach Mike Petke practically assaulted his coaching staff in jubilation, and RSL beat Atlanta 2-1 on Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“It’s the most exciting moment that we’ve had this year. One hundred percent,” Petke said.
RSL is now on a three-game winning streak after beating the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC in the previous two weeks, respectively. Now the team will embark on a two-week road trip that includes a midweek game Wednesday against the Montreal Impact and ends Saturday against the New York Red Bulls.
Savarino’s late goal was his second of the season, but first since March 30. He said he was first and foremost happy that Real picked up the three points and he was proud of the effort they put in for 90-plus minutes.
“We had a lot of opportunities and we could have scored a goal much earlier,” Savarino said.
Saucedo, describing the moment Savarino’s goal connected, said “the bench went crazy.” He added that RSL played well on both sides of the ball and reiterated Savarino’s sentiment that it could have scored more goals.
But Savarino’s goal was enough, Saucedo said.
“It’s an unbelievable goal to win like that,” Saucedo said.
Said Atlanta United coach Frank de Boer: “I had shouted ‘make a foul, make a foul’ because they were trying to escape and we have to recognize that in that moment. We still didn’t do that and they just kept on going. Every time it’s like a domino, it just drops, it goes, and every time we are too late.”
Salt Lake entered the game against an Atlanta team that is the best in league when it comes to possession. The game ended with both teams virtually sharing half of the ball, with RSL clocking in at 49.8%.
RSL also had to figure out a way to score against a team that had only given up one goal in the last six games. But from the early moments, Real created plenty of opportunities for themselves while limiting Atlanta’s. RSL outshot United 15-10, and five of those shots were on target.
“We deserved that win 100 percent,” Petke said. “There’s been games over the last couple of years that we’ve won late that you could argue we weren’t the better team. There’s no relief in there (the locker room) from that goal. There’s justification. The guys are happy.”
The players weren’t the only happy campers. RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen stopped Petke in the hallway on his way to address reporters and congratulated him on the game.
For Saucedo, it was the second time in as many games that he scored a goal, which looked like his first just last week. In the 36th minute, he received a pass from Albert Rusnák and dribbled well outside the 18-yard box. Saucedo let it rip and beat a diving Brad Guzan, Atlanta’s keeper, for a 1-0 lead.
But Atlanta equalized in the 78th minute off a crisp buildup of passing that led to Josef Martinez, last year’s league MVP and highest goal scorer, who found the net to tie the game at 1-1. Gonzalo Martínez provided the assist on the play.
“We came into the game and made a good equalizer and we had [the] better of the play,” said de Boer. "It’s so hard to get nothing out of Salt Lake.”