SANDY — When the ball hit Ned Grabavoy’s right arm in the box, the Real Salt Lake midfielder knew right away it was probably going to be a PK call.
A week after a tough penalty call went against RSL in Vancouver, Saturday’s decision seemed like a much easier call for the ref to make.
“It’s just one of those plays where a guy flicks on the ball. I’m getting ready to clear the ball with my right foot, and it just changed direction and I’m standing on one foot ready to clear and it hits my hand,” said Grabavoy.
The funny thing is, Grabavoy wasn’t completely worried about RSL falling behind 1-0. Nick Rimando is the best 'keeper in MLS history at saving PKs, and Grabavoy had a hunch he was due.
“Knowing he’s in there you know you’ve got a pretty decent shot considering he hasn’t saved the last couple. You know he’s due to save one cause he’s going to save one every couple,” said Grabavoy.
Rimando’s last penalty save came at Houston last September, and Saturday’s was the 18th of his storied career.
Rimando said he’d been second-guessing himself lately on PKs, but he committed to diving to his left against Chivas’ Edgar Mejia and it paid off as he guessed correctly and smothered the shot.
RSL went on to beat Chivas 1-0.
PLAYING DIRECT: In preparing for Saturday’s match, RSL had a pretty good idea Chivas USA would try and play an aggressive, high-pressure style — something road teams rarely try at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL hoped to counter that with a very direct attacking style of its own, definitely uncommon for a team that likes to patiently build its attack through possession.
“We knew from the beginning of the game we probably weren’t going to play as much but try and be direct,” said Grabavoy.
The approach worked fantastically as Real Salt Lake created chance after chance in the opening half, thanks to the strong play of Alvaro Saborio and Olmes Garcia, who won more than their fair share of 50-50 balls.
On a different night, RSL would’ve punished Chivas two or three times for the aggressive style, but it proved throughout the game that it’s capable of playing a direct style if necessary.
GUTTING IT OUT: About 10 minutes into the match Saturday, midfielder Luis Gil went up for a header and came down awkwardly, twisting the ankle that’s been bothering him all season.
It’s a nagging injury he picked up with the Under-20 U.S. National Team, and immediately Sebastian Velasquez got up off the bench and started warming up in case the injury was too much for Gil to continue with.
Gil gutted it out, though, and played 74 minutes before being replaced by Velasquez.
“Credit to him, he gutted it out. We probably pushed him a little bit longer than we should have, but he’s been doing well and he’s in a good moment and he had another nice game tonight,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis.