Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Updated version of this story: Johnson's goal gives Real Salt Lake a delayed win over D.C. United
SANDY — Real Salt Lake might be ready to leave the dog days of summer in the rearview mirror.
In a gutty defensive effort against a quality attacking D.C. United squad, RSL gutted out a 1-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, it's first victory in MLS play in over a month.
The shutout in front of a sellout crowd of 20,334 was Real Salt Lake's third straight, and should help buoy the club heading into the very difficult home stretch of the regular season.
Four of RSL's final six games are on the road, so picking up maximum points against D.C. United on Saturday night was vital.
RSL moved back into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference with the victory, three points clear of both Los Angeles — which also won Saturday — and Seattle. The Sounders, however, have three games in hand and play on Sunday.
Nothing came easy for RSL on or off the field. Less than four minutes into the match, severe lightning moved into the area and the match was suspended for 84 minutes while the thunderstorms passed.
Once the game resumed, the attacking trio of Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Lionard Pajoy gave RSL's defense fits.
None of the three finished like Will Johnson though. His header in the 48th minute on a Paulo Jr. cross was the lone goal in what was an exciting end-to-end match between unfamiliar foes.
Coming out of the lengthy delay the game was surprisingly open, with both teams creating numerous scoring chances. D.C. United was actually the more dangerous of the two in the opening 45 minutes.
Pontius had a close-range shot blocked by Chris Wingert in the 21st minute, and then seven minutes later De Rosario cracked a shot from distance off the left post.
Fortunate not to be down a goal at the half, RSL wasted little time seizing the lead for good early in the second half on a brave header by Johnson in the 48th minute. He threw his body in front of Paulo Jr.'s cross, which could've easily resulted in Johnson getting punch in the face by D.C. United keeper Bill Hamid instead.
He narrowly beat Hamid to the cross though, redirecting the close-range opportunity into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead. Ned Grabavoy's clever back-heel pass to Paulo Jr. freed up the striker to deliver the cross near the end line.
The goal was Johnson's third of the season, and couldn't have come at a more opportune time as Real Salt Lake was looking to shake the doldrums of a frustrating summer. RSL came into the match with a 3-7-2 record in its previous 12 matches, but Saturday's win should give the club confidence heading into next weekend's difficult match at Houston.
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