Brad Rock: RSL is in control of both coasts

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 11:31 p.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake fans react to the first home win of the season following the home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Saturday, March 17, 2012. RSL defeated the New York Red Bulls, 2-0.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SANDY — Windy. Chilly. Rainy. Hostile.

And that was just the attitude Real Salt Lake was showing.

The weather?

Yeah, there was that, too.

RSL opened its home season Saturday at Rio Tinto with a convincing 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls. The victory provided Real a, well, bullish start on the new Major League Soccer season. That makes it two games and two victories, with an even more impressive win occurring last week on the road against the L.A. Galaxy.

One thing RSL's players appear to be focusing on so far in this early season: West Coast or East Coast, they'll take 'em where they can get 'em.

Which right now seems to be almost everywhere.

Despite a considerably different looking team than in the past, RSL is already making a case that it can contend in the top-heavy West. Life doesn't get much better than it did in last week's season opener, when Salt Lake annihilated the Galaxy, 3-1, scoring three goals in 12 minutes. Beckham, Donovan, Buddle? RSL treated the L.A. stars like Moe, Larry and Curly.

As for this week, the situation was considerably more, well, polar.

RSL got its first goal in the 39th minute, a second in the 58th. New York never challenged.

The home opener for Real was accompanied by considerable buildup. Club officials on Friday said ticket sales were brisk, aided considerably by the win in Los Angeles and the fact most experts are considering Salt Lake a threat in the West. But by the time the game approached, the weather had scared off a few thousand fans. Still, an impressive 16,738 showed up, never fearing rain, sleet, snow nor dark of night.

There were cold temperatures, a sprinkling of rain and enough wind to make the flags in the north goal heave and snap.

Speaking of heaving and snapping, that's what happened to Red Bulls keeper Ryan Meara in the 35th minute when Paulo Junior got alone in front of the New York net but was taken down. Four minutes later, Fabian Espindola fired a low shot into the net for a 1-0 lead.

Just like that, the fear of being frozen out — both literally and figuratively — was over. Real was actually heating up the night. It got its second goal on a rebound shot by Luis Gil.

Despite adages to the contrary, New York actually does shut down on occasion.

Early success aside, Real needs to continue its early momentum if it is to contend for the Supporter's Shield, symbol of the regular season winner. Because Western Conference teams only play Eastern teams once this year, acquiring the best record in the league won't be easy. That's because the West is usually considered stronger.

Consequently, Real needs to rack up as many early wins as it can, because storm clouds could be gathering — and not just the weather variety. It's also the Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland variety.

As midfielder Kyle Beckerman noted, the new schedule is a mixed bag. It means fewer travel miles but more tough games, which means it could be less protracted but more painful.

"That's definitely true. I mean, the difference should hopefully pay off at the end of the season when you're usually starting to drag," Beckerman said. "So hopefully that will make a difference. I guess because of the conference rivals, a lot of these games will be six-point games (swings). So if we get off to a decent start, we might kind of be able to separate ourselves from the pack."

Capitalizing on the altitude advantage it has over most MLS teams, Salt Lake kept up the attacking on Saturday, hoping to run the lowlanders into the turf. And it worked. Real led the first half and improved in the second, making First Night a rousing success. Plenty of points, plenty of spirit. Beyond above that, Real showed it can manhandle teams from either side of the country.

It's wonderful when you're bi-coastal.

email: rock@desnews.com

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