Sandy • Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.
Real Salt Lake lived that aphorism popularized by the “Cobra Kai” television show Wednesday in its 3-0 win over LAFC in front of 4,147 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL struck first for the first time since its win against the Colorado Rapids in the opener of the MLS is Back Tournament on July 12. It had played from behind in each of the previous four games.
RSL players and assistant coach Tyrone Marshall said scoring first was a topic of discussion heading into the game.
“We wanted to jump on them quickly and hopefully score one, maybe two, and put the game away early and not give them any confidence,” Marshall said.
That’s exactly what RSL did. Midfielder Damir Kreilach, who already has Karate Kid as a nickname, gave Salt Lake a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute off a nifty assist from forward Maikel Chang. From there, RSL struck hard.
Justin Meram and Albert Rusnák provided the next two goals for RSL. Meram’s came off a corner kick that he fought for as it landed in the box and was inches away from getting cleared.
RSL’s third came on a penalty kick by midfielder Rusnák after LAFC was called for a handball. LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega baited Rusnák to strike to the keeper’s left, leaving space open on that side of the goal.
Rusnák went right, then had some words of his own for Sisniega.
“I didn’t say anything before I took the penalty,” Rusnák said. “But if you’re gonna speak to me before I take the penalty, I dunno why would you expect me to be to be quiet after the penalty.”
RSL’s passing earned them several opportunities at goal. Chang, who had a breakout game last month against Colorado, picked up another assist on the season on Kreilach’s goal. Kreilach picked up one on Meram’s. But through balls and switches across the field were on time and on target for much of the evening.
RSL ended with 19 shots, eight of which were on frame. LAFC was close behind, though, with 18 shots and eight on frame.
Marshall said scoring first helped RSL gain confidence in the game early, which translated to other parts of the team’s collective mentality.
“For us to get that confidence of scoring first, it gives up a little bit more calmness to play, and the guys weren’t panicking,” Marshall said. “That’s what I liked tonight.”
RSL goalkeeper Andrew Putna, who recorded four saves Wednesday, said the team talked about running at and pressing LAFC from the start of the game. He remembered how against Portland, the Timbers struck first and forced RSL to chase.
But on Wednesday, it was RSL that forced LAFC to chase. And once Salt Lake got that second goal two minutes after halftime, LAFC needed a body bag.
“That was a key goal,” Marshall said.
Wednesday’s game was a make-up for the game between the two teams originally scheduled to take place on Aug. 26.
That game was postponed because RSL and LAFC decided not to play it after teams in other sports leagues didn’t play their games to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
LAFC was without Carlos Vela, who is recovering from a Grade 2 MCL sprain.