Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SANDY — It was cold, it was windy, and a scoreless draw seemed like an inevitability. Real Salt Lake fans knew better though.
When RSL is facing rival Colorado anything can happen — and usually does. Like clockwork, it happened again Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Fabian Espindola's tap-in goal in the 93rd minute lifted Real Salt Lake to a gutty 1-0 victory over the Rapids in front of 15,513 chilly, yet loyal supporters.
It was the fifth time in the past seven games of the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry that a game-tying or game-winning goal has been scored by either team in the 88th minute or later.
"I don't know what's going on. Wild night, wild weather, wild game I guess," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
RSL salvaged ties against Colorado with dramatic stoppage times goals in both games last year, but Espindola's goal was good enough for the full three points this time around.
"It's remarkable, absolutely remarkable how many times the games against Colorado are being decided in the last minutes of matches," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Playing without injured stars Pablo Mastroeni and Conor Casey, the Rapids did well to frustrate RSL and was poised to earn a coveted point at "The Fortress." A silly foul by midfielder Brian Mullan on Jamison Olave changed all that.
Javier Morales, who seemed a bit off all night after his foot was stepped on early in the match, struck the 25-yard free kick wonderfully but was unlucky to have it bang off the right post. Paulo Jr. was right there to collect the rebound and passed it just a few yards to his left to an awaiting Espindola who appeared to be in an offside position before burying the winner.
The goal stood though and, as has become tradition, RSL celebrated at the expense of Colorado.
Four games into the MLS season Real has secured the maximum 12 points with eight goals scored and only one allowed.
"That's good. Keep those shutouts you're going to do well in this league. We're going to continue to try and do that and continue to try and get better on offense," said Beckerman, whose team extended its home unbeaten streak to 37 games in all competitions dating back to May of 2009.
The victory also extended RSL's regular season unbeaten streak to 18 games, one shy of tying the league record owned by both Dallas and Columbus.
For most of the match though, it looked like a 0-0 draw would be how RSL extended its many streaks. Neither team team was sharp in the offensive third, combining on just three shots on goal the entire match.
"It wasn't our best, there's no doubt about that. We've got to continue to strive for excellence and strive for perfection," said Kreis. "I thought in the first half we were very, very close to pulling some stuff off, but always one step here or there away from it."
RSL's best opportunity in the first half came in the 37th minute on a clever lunging volley by Espindola, but Colorado keeper Matt Pickens was equal to the challenge with a diving save.
Eight minutes later Espindola put a different cross in the back of the net, but on this occasion the linesman signaled offsides.
Attacking into the wind in the second half, RSL struggled to mount a consistent attack against a Colorado team content to defend with numbers to bounce back from its embarrassing 3-0 loss at Dallas last weekend.
"It seemed to frustrate us a bit and give us some problems, but we just kept at it and kept at it, and we were lucky to come out and get one," said Beckerman.
The second leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup (awarded to the season series winner) won't be until Oct. 14 at Dicks' Sporting Goods Park.
Real Salt Lake will now turn its attention to the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final in Monterrey, Mexico, this Wednesday.
"We're going to have to do better than that next week for certain," said Kreis.
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