Real Salt Lake moves into top four in Western Conference with 3-0 rout of Seattle Sounders

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake's Corey Baird (17), interim coach Freddy Juarez, right, and the team celebrate the win, Aug. 14, 2019, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy. RSL defeated the Sounders 3-0.

Sandy • Interim coach Freddy Juarez has his first official Major League Soccer game under his belt, and it looks much like the last two results while he served as acting coach before Mike Petke’s firing over the weekend.

Juarez led Real Salt Lake to a 3-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in front of 17,825 fans. Juarez’s record is now 1-0-0 in MLS play.

RSL won its third straight game under Juarez, the first two of which were comebacks against New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City. In the last three years with Juarez on the sideline — mostly replacing Petke during a suspension — Salt Lake has not lost a game.

“Knowing that he’s the guy that's at the helm right now and getting the win for him, I think it’s fantastic,” assistant coach Tryone Marshall said of Juarez.

But it’s not just Juarez that’s been the difference lately for RSL. Since the Gold Cup break in early June, RSL has won six games, drawn two and lost only one. And in the last 10 games, Salt Lake has allowed only five goals. It allowed none to the Sounders, who didn’t record a single shot on goal.

“I think we’re just getting momentum, to be honest, through good play and good understanding of what’s required of us going into every game,” defender Nedum Onuoha said. “Once you start getting the results, it’s easy to believe in the players every time you step out onto the field. You honestly believe they can keep a clean sheet.”

Meanwhile, the team’s offense has also been clicking. Sam Johnson, Albert Rusnák and Corey Baird all scored for RSL, which has lately been finding multiple goal scorers due to Johnson’s recent absence due to an injury.

“I think everyone is starting to step up and knowing that we’re counting on everyone,” Marshall said. “I think in the past when Sam was healthy, I thought Sam being our No. 9 we were trying to feed him as much as possible. But now that Sam was out, we we were looking to other guys to step up and score.”

Johnson opened the scoring late in the 25th minute. He received a pass from defender Aaron Herrera and found himself facing two defenders. With a dribble to his left, he found a sliver of space to stroke with his left foot. The shot deflected off a Sounders defender’s foot and found its way into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

It was Johnson’s first start since going down with a quad injury that forced him to miss five games. He returned against Sporting KC and played 26 minutes.

Rusnák put his stamp on the game in the 71st minute during a clinical sequence. A series of passes from Baird to Damir Kreilach to Rusnák culminated in the Slovakian putting a right-footed strike into the far post from a couple of yards outside the 18-yard box.

Baird put away his third goal in the last two games — he scored a brace against SKC — in the 87th minute to give RSL a 3-0 lead. Baird received a pass into space from Kreilach on a counterattack and put away the goal relatively easily.

RSL has just a few days to prepare for another home game Saturday against Los Angeles FC, the best team in the league. Defender Aaron Herrera was direct when conveying the team's mentality going into that game.

“I think we want three points,” Herrera said.