Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SANDY — Nick Rimando said Real Salt Lake let itself down in losing at home to Chivas USA a few weeks ago. Ahead of Wednesday's match with Montreal, Rimando said RSL hoped to get back to its winning ways at Rio Tinto Stadium while also giving fans something to cheer about.
It wasn't necessarily the dominant performance fans might've expected against the expansion Impact, but RSL avoided the big mistake at the back and in the process sent the sellout crowd of 21,191 home pleased with a 1-0 victory.
"You have these games sometimes. You can't always play good soccer, and tonight was one of those nights. Usually you end up on the other side of the scoring line when you have those nights, but today we didn't," said Rimando.
Coach Jason Kreis called the performance RSL's worst of the season, particularly in the first half when it struggled to find the spaces to attack Montreal's five-man midfield
"I didn't think our balance in midfield was good, which meant we didn't have options when we had the ball. We tried to squeeze the ball into players who were already marked," said Kreis.
Despite the poor performance, Paulo Jr.'s penalty kick in the 13th minute was just enough as RSL survived a flurry of Montreal chances in the waning minutes as RSL played down a man and a half. Javier Morales left the game in the 89th minute with a hamstring injury, while Ned Grabavoy played the final 15 or so minutes with what the team fears are broken ribs.
Despite all that, Real Salt Lake improved to 4-1-0, and moved into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference standings.
"It is what it is. Obviously the performance wasn't good, it needs to be a lot better, but at the end of the day I'm sure that (Montreal coach Jesse Marsch) would trade the three points for the performance any day. It's a results business and tonight we did enough to get the result," said Will Johnson, who made his first start of the season.
Real Salt Lake has a quick turnaround with a game against rival Colorado this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium as it wraps up a busy eight-day stretch with three games.
After being held scoreless against Chivas for 90 minutes in its previous home game, it took RSL just 13 minutes to break down Montreal's defense. In reality, Impact striker Justin Braun was to blame for the goal, as his bizarre handball led to the penalty kick that Paulo Jr. calmly finished for the 1-0 lead.
The goal was Paulo Jr.'s first league goal since he scored in a 2-0 win at New England on April 9, 2011.
On a night when Kreis was critical of most of his players, he said Paulo Jr. was one of the few bright spots.
Real Salt Lake had a few chances to tack on a second goal throughout the first half, with Chris Schuler glancing a shot off the crossbar and then Fabian Espindola squandering a breakaway opportunity with a heavy touch in the 42nd minute.
Early in the second half, Kreis thought RSL was unlucky not to double its lead.
"In the second half I actually thought we came out and did a much better job and probably should've scored a goal in the first 15, 20 minutes of the second half, which maybe puts us in a much better place," he said.
Coming off last Saturday's dramatic 3-2 win at Portland, Kreis decided not to start Morales, Alvaro Saborio, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Grabavoy against Montreal.
Morales, Grabavoy and Saborio eventually entered the match as substitutes, but two of the three left the match with injuries, which Kreis said changes his plans for Colorado.
Rimando only had to make two saves to preserve the shutout, but he came up big in the 56th minute with Braun poised to avenge his hand ball.
With an unmarked Braun ready to pounce on a Justin Mapp cross about eight yards from goal, Rimando came off his line to smother the cross with his finger tips just before Braun got his foot on it.
It was one of several chances Kreis said came far too easy for Montreal.
"This game we've got some problems, but most of that comes to what we did with the ball. On a different night, we're much better with the ball. We gave it away so cheaply and then they were right at us," said Kreis.
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