This Real Salt Lake player has more goals than Lionel Messi

Chicho Arango is just one reason RSL is on the run that has taken MLS by storm.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Chicho Arango (9) gets past Seattle Sounders defender Jackson Ragen (25) as he scores a goal on Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei (24) during the second half of a Leagues Cup soccer match Saturday, July 22, 2023, in Sandy, Utah. RSL won 3-0.

Real Salt Lake made a big splash when it acquired Chicho Arango from Liga MX last year.

RSL paid a club record for the Colombian striker, hoping he’d be the answer to a years-long search for the elite goal scorer the team hasn’t truly had since Álvaro Saborío.

Arango has answered the call and has been one of the catalysts of RSL’s meteoric rise in Major League Soccer.

With Arango’s two goals on Saturday, he became the league’s top goal scorer at 13. That surpassed D.C. United’s Christian Benteke (11) and Inter Miami’s Luis Suárez (11). He even has more goals than Lionel Messi — yes, that Messi — who has 10.

“Very happy with everything that has been done,” Arango said. “But even happier with the way the team is going, with the way that we’ve been winning, with the way we’re building that winning mentality, that strong and positive mentality.”

Arango’s answer is a microcosm of just how the Claret and Cobalt have taken the league by storm. Yes, Arango grabs the headlines. But sometimes wins come down to goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Or Diego Luna. Or Anderson Julio.

On Saturday against their biggest rival, it was Andrés Gómez who provided the game-winning goal in an an electrifying 5-3 comeback win over the Colorado Rapids.

“What Gomez is doing has finally translated from the practice field to the game field — on the stage,” coach Pablo Mastroeni said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Carlos Andrés Gómez (11) sets up Real Salt Lake forward Rubio Rubin (14) for the first goal of the night as RSL hosts the Colorado Rapids during an MLS soccer match in Sandy, Utah on Saturday, March 9, 2024.

The last time RSL lost a game came back in March to those same Rapids. But since then, the team has been on a tear.

RSL is in the midst of an 10-game league unbeaten streak. At 28 points, RSL is third in the Supporter Shield race behind Cincinnati (30 points) and Miami (31 points), and sits atop the Western Conference.

There are a few factors that can be attributed to RSL’s meteoric rise. They all seemed to come together against Colorado, which held a 3-2 lead at America First Field as late as the 84th minute.

Mastroeni described the comeback win as “one of the most emotional games that I’ve experienced probably since [Damir Kreilach’s] last touch to get us in the playoffs in 2021.”

“We talk about mental fortitude all the time, and the guys, after the game, mentioned the same,” Mastroeni said. “They feel like whether we’re playing great or we’re not playing well, whether we’re winning or we’re behind it, the people in this room have incredible mindsets.”

RSL generally has the perception that it’s a perpetual underdog, always punching above its weight. For years, the team embraced that position. But the team’s current run of form not only has Arango with MVP buzz, but it’s starting to feel like RSL can make a deep run in the postseason.

“Since the start of the season, we’ve thought about it, we’ve dreamt about it and we wanted to work for it,” Arango said when asked if the team ever thought it’d be in this position. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re working on it. We know what we want, we know the objective. We’re building something beautiful.”

Arango added that the most difficult part of the season is upon RSL, and that it’s going to take double the effort and a maintaining of mentality in order to keep moving forward.