SANDY — Real Salt Lake rediscovered some of its swagger on Saturday night.
In a match that coach Jason Kreis dubbed the best test for his team in MLS this season, RSL put on a performance reminiscent of the dominant days during its two-year home unbeaten streak in an impressive 2-0 victory over FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"To get all three points against them at home was big for us," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Dallas has emerged as the front-runner to win the MLS Supporters Shield over the past month, but RSL's win Saturday shoves it back into the conversation at the midway point of the season.
"Big win. In terms of the Supporters Shield, which is still a goal of ours, they're obviously a strong contender for that. It's kind of like a six-point game tonight, so that was big," said Will Johnson.
The win takes some of the sting off of recent draws at home against D.C. United and New England.
A dominant effort defensively and a howler by Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman were the difference as Real Salt Lake improved to 8-3-6 in front of 17,734 fans.
Following a fairly uneventful first half in which scoring opportunities were minimal for both teams, the complexion of the match changed completely in the 47th minute on a curling free kick goal from Andy Williams.
It should've been an easy save for Hartman, but instead it was probably one of the more embarrassing moments of his career. Williams deserves a lot of credit for handcuffing Dallas' keeper. His curling free kick from 30 yards out dipped violently as it neared Hartman, who misjudged the shot and had it bounce off his left arm and then roll harmlessly into the back of the net.
"Very surprised. Kevin has been extremely good against us, I think he's been extremely good against us," said Kreis. "For some reason he's pulled off some incredible saves against us in the last year and a half since he's been there. I've always felt if we could just get one bounce and maybe hit a divot in front of him."
"I think that bounce has been a long time coming for this club, well deserved," said Kreis.
The goal forced Dallas to change the counter-attacking style its known for, which RSL had done very well against all night anyway.
"We made it a big area of emphasis, keeping the ball tonight. Dallas is a very counter-attacking oriented team, if we could keep the ball for long stretches and not lose it in dangerous positions we would limit the number of chances they could create against us," said Kreis.
Brek Shea in particular was big concern for RSL's defense, but defender Tony Beltran came up big against him all night.
In a second half in which it outshot Dallas 9-6, Salt Lake had numerous opportunities to double its advantage, which finally came in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Fabian Espindola danced around a pair of defenders and then slipped in his team-leading sixth goal.
As good as Real Salt Lake was defensively, particularly the midfielders tracking back to win balls and break up dangerous moments, it nearly conceded a damaging equalizer in the 85th minute. Fortunately for RSL, Jackson didn't hit his off-balanced, first-time shot from six yards out with much pace, which gave Chris Wingert just enough time to sprint those extra three steps and clear the ball off the line.
Wingert's heroics seemed to crush the fighting spirit of Dallas, which had one more shot the rest of the match.
Even though Saturday's match was the last regular season meeting between RSL and Dallas, they'll meet again on Tuesday in Dallas in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match. RSL has never won in Dallas, but it earned its first tie there in May and the players are optimistic that result along with Saturday's 2-0 victory will be the shot of confidence it needs.