Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Real Salt Lake seemed determined Saturday night to show Seattle and the rest of Major League Soccer that, with a full roster, it's back to claim the title of best in MLS after a season of injury and intrigue. Real came out of the blocks a little too hot, obviously wanting to put Seattle on its heels. After settling down in the 10th minute, Real dominated the first half, winning the possession game, owning the advantage in shots on goal and finally putting one past a vintage Kasey Keller in the 42nd minute. The second half was all Real Salt Lake as well with two goals coming from Alvaro Saborio and substitute Ned Grabavoy. Real Salt Lake goes to Seattle for the second leg of the playoffs on Wednesday with a 3-0 advantage and a lot of confidence.
Nick Rimando was not challenged in the first half but a hard charging Seattle made him sweat some after Real's 42nd minute goal. The second half wasn't too different and he managed a very solid clean sheet assisted by very strong play out of his backline despite not making a single save. Grade: A
Robbie Russell showed Alvaro Fernandez that he wasn't too interested in his overly physical style of play when in the 27th minute Russell took him to ground on a hard tackle that kept Fernandez on the ground for 3 or 4 minutes. His save in front of the goal in the final minutes of the game proved to be his greatest moment in a very well played game. Grade: A
Jamison Olave was not interested in giving any quarter, asserting himself early going shoulder to shoulder with Seattle's Sammy Ochoa, sending him skidding hard into the boards. His promising night was cut short in the 32nd minute when he went down with a quad strain and was replaced by Chris Schuler. Grade: A-
Nat Borchers was quiet Saturday night but solid. His leadership in the backfield was critical in the first half as he helped to settle his team down and help Chris Schuler find his rhythm after being subbed in for the injured Olave. He was subbed out in the 84th minute after being injured himself with a left knee strain and was replaced at central defender by Chris Wingert who moved over to make room for Will Johnson who made room for Luis Gil. Grade: A
Chris Wingert was shaky much of the night. He was caught out of position a couple of times and played a handful of very poor balls forward. But he came alive in the 68th minute with a perfectly weighted chip forward to Javier Morales that nearly turned to goal'd and had another terrific cross from the end line to give Alvaro Saborio another shot at a goal. Grade: B
Andy Williams was the victim of another unbelievable save by Keller in the 24th minute when he laced what looked like a perfectly placed shot to the far corner. His chance in the 47th minute to put in a wide open rebound shot went high and wide. Grade: B+
Kyle Beckerman was focused and fearless Saturday night. Not to mention a comfort to have back in the midfield. He proved why his name was not in vain as a possible MLS MVP earlier in the year. The connection between Morales and Beckerman was seamless and felt like old times. Grade: A
Javier Morales may have had his finest moment in the 42nd minute when he calmly brought the ball down the left side, perfectly faking a shot to draw the defense to him then slipping it to Wingert who slipped a perfect assist to Saborio for Real's first goal. His point blank shot in the 47th minute was his best opportunity for a goal but it ricocheted off Seattle's savior, Keller. He found a way around Keller with a perfectly placed assist to Saborio's right foot for his 53rd minute goal. His presence was powerful and reminded RSL fans how much better this team is with him on the pitch. Man of the Match. Grade: A
Will Johnson gave Real its best chance of the first 20 minutes when he sent a rocket into the box from 25 yards out that Keller expertly parried away. He had another in the 78th minute that he laid right in Keller's lap from 20 out. But it was his defense and work off the ball that played such an important role in Real's domination of the midfield. Grade: A-
Alvaro Saborio had a very good chance in the eight minute when his header went wide off a perfectly placed Morales free kick. His security tap in goal off Wingert's goal/assist in the 42nd minute was evidence that Saborio was just very good Saturday night at being in the right place at the right time. Once again, his positioning in front of the goal in the 53rd minute was world class and the resulting back-heel goal was no less so. Grade: A
Fabian Espindola had his best chance of the first half when he danced along the 18-yard line through two defenders and got a terrific shot off with his favorite left foot that once again, Keller was equal to. Espindola was at his best when running at the defense. His speed and peskiness kept Seattle on its heels all night long. Grade: A-
Chris Schuler may have had his best defensive game of the season Saturday night. Not only did he fill in for the injured Olave he seemed to have picked up a little of the speed and physicality the big Colombian left on the field. He muscled his way into a handful of strong and effective challenges and along with Borchers built a wall in front of the goal that made it very tough for Freddy Montero, Ochoa or the subbed in Mike Fucito to get a decent shot off from the center of the box. Grade: A-
Ned Grabavoy came on in the 79th minute for a tired Morales and picked up right where Morales left off with solid passing and fresh pressure that saw him put the nail in the coffin for Seattle with an 88th minute goal. Grade: A
Luis Gil was subbed on in the 84th minute for an injured Borchers, taking Johnson's right midfield position with Johnson dropping back to play left fullback. He didn't figure into the run of play enough to earn a grade in the final minutes of the game. Grade: Incomplete
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