The outcome of rivalry games can be some of the most difficult to predict or even determine during the course of a game itself. Yet from the first touch of the ball Saturday night the players of Real Salt Lake left little doubt that the first game in the battle for the Rocky Mountain Cup against the Colorado Rapids was firmly in their control. On a chilly night in front of a less than capacity crowd, Real set the tone with a cool and collective offensive attack that made the most of scoring opportunities as they presented themselves. The result was a decisive 2-0 victory that allowed RSL to retain control of the West Conference with 15 points, 3 points ahead of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Forward Alvaro Saborio started off the scoring with an early goal in the 20th minute. The goal provided a air of relaxation and confidence in the stadium, something that had been lacking in Real’s previous three games. Though an additional 8 shots on goal failed to find the back of the net in the first half of play, RSL dominated the time of possession (62.5%), allowing the Rapids only 2 shots on goal.
Though comfortably in control of the game, head coach Jason Kries emphasized to his players during half time the importance of finishing off the Rapids in the second half. They responded with what Kries characterized as one of the best 45 minute performances he’s ever seen from a Real team. The second half performance included a remarkable solo goal by forward Fabian Espindola who worked through two defenders to slip the ball past Rapids goal keeper Matt Pickens and a stingy defense that insured Colorado was never in a place to threaten RSL’s lead.
The real key to the game though may not have been Espindola and Saborio’s offensive performances, but rather their defensive contributions. Throughout the game both forwards assisted in hindering Colorado’s offensive efforts a fact that Kries praised in his post-game press conference saying: “When they’re (Espindola and Saborio) that in-tune to giving for the team we almost always get results.”
Still the game could have had quite a different outcome, as Real was playing it’s third game in eight days. And even though RSL had won on the road in dramatic fashion last Saturday against Portland, the team was coming off of a disappointing and lackluster effort against the expansion Montreal Impact on Wednesday night.
Whether it was the players own determination to prove that they were better then their performance against Montreal or some choice motivational words from head coach Jason Kries, Real demonstrated on Saturday why they are currently one of the elite teams in the MLS.
RSL now faces three challenging games on the road, starting off next Saturday night against undefeated Sporting Kansas City who is currently leading the Eastern Conference with 15 points. Real will be looking to redeem their 0-2 loss last August at KC, whom they are 1-4-2 lifetime against on the road.
To have success next week and in the following road games against San Jose and FC Dallas, Kries stressed that the team needed to be more concerned with performing at their best rather than being concerned with what threats their opponents pose. In other words, force the competition to adapt to your game and not vice versa.
Speaking specifically to next week’s game Kries stated: “Kansas City is a fantastic team and a fantastic test for us.”
Certainly it will be a fantastic barometer for the league’s two best teams whom are intent on continuing their winning ways. Could this be a preview of the 2012 MLS Cup?
Image Gallery from Saturday Night’s Game:
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