Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy of Real Salt Lake battles to win possession of the ball from Caleb Folan of the Colorado Rapids during their game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City Wednesday, April 13, 2011.
SANDY — As fans started filing into Rio Tinto Stadium on April 13, the weather had turned nasty and cold. The frigid feeling on the field was not just from the weather, it was the sentiment that these two teams had towards each other.
Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids just flat out dislike each other, and that is putting it lightly. As most of the fans in attendance knew this was a contest where hard fouls would be the norm and any goals scored would not be conceded easily.
This was a contest where late-game drama was almost a guarantee, after all, four the last six games between these bitter rivals were decided after the 88th minute. That could be why 15,000-plus packed into the Riot, and stayed despite the miserable conditions.
How could they leave? Their team was on the pitch in the same conditions. By kickoff the temperature dropped below freezing, the wind had leveled off at 30 mph with gusts above 40, and don't forget the rain.
Sheets of rain whipped across the stadium and RSL faithful huddled under blankets, winter coats, ponchos and trash bags. The attitude in the seats was, “If our team is out there fighting, then we're going to stay out here and support them.”
The game had 23 fouls and five shots on goal, and at halftime, when RSL headed to the warmth of the locker room, its fans headed to the concourse and restrooms. They went anywhere to get out of the elements, but they never thought of leaving.
At the beginning of the second half everyone headed back to his or her rain-soaked seats, grabbed his or her blanket and poncho, and hunkered in for the second half. The weather never let up.
The strong defensive play never let up, either, and toward the end of the game a nervous tension began to grow in the crowd. It was a mix of anxiety and excitement because everyone knew that the best moments of these matches happens in the final minutes.
The anxiety came from the game itself. This was a rivalry game filled with strong emotions from both sides, and the fans wanted a blowout. They wanted to see a landslide victory, so they could celebrate with their team throughout the whole game, but what they got in the end was so much better.
In the 83rd minute, Nick Rimando parried away a dangerous cross with his right hand, everyone stood and gasped, but no one sat back down. The crowd’s attention was fixed to the pitch, and after Rimando’s save, the home fans began to believe that three points were attainable.
During the last 10 minutes, while Colorado was playing for a draw, RSL was still playing to win. As the fourth official announced that there would be three minutes of stoppage time, the weather finally gave way.
The wind had died as did the driving rain, but just as Javier Morales lined up his free kick a light snow began to fall on the field. This was the moment that everyone, players and fans alike, were waiting for.
Morales struck the ball perfectly, banged off the upright, and Fabian Espindola was there to clean up the mess. Pandemonium ensued in the stands and no one cared that their clothes were soaked and that their feet were freezing, the game had been won.
It was pure magic.
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While most who attended would have preferred warmer weather, the weather only added to the overall atmosphere. The frigid weather matched the cold feelings on the field, and when the weather gave way for just a moment in the final seconds of the game, magic happened — victory Real Salt Lake.
Andrew has an absolute passion for soccer and a love for all sports. He received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Utah Valley University. Follow him on Twitter @Andrew_J_Reeves and on his blog at www.dbeckamreeves.blogspot.com.