COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — A few hours before Real Salt Lake hoisted the Rocky Mountain Cup on Saturday night, Nick Rimando called it. Well, sort of.
The RSL ‘keeper tweeted that with “complete focus and commitment,” lifting the Cup on Saturday night was “within reach.”
Complete focus and commitment is what 10-man Real Salt Lake got in a scrappy 1-0 win over rival Colorado on Saturday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, bringing the Rocky Mountain Cup back to the Rio Tinto Stadium for the seventh time in eight seasons after a one-year hiatus in suburban Denver. Javier Morales’ early clinical finish was enough to seal the deal for the claret-and-cobalt, who overall won for the third time in six matches.
“The commitment from the guys was unbelievable,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar told reporters after the game. “Colorado really threw everything at us, but our guys really stood still and defended awesome.”
The win propels RSL into the second spot of the Western Conference standings, a full six points ahead of their Rocky Mountain rivals, who could’ve gone level with RSL with a victory of their own on Saturday night.
The win also went into the record books for several other reasons, too. Rimando’s shutout gave him the 112th of his decorated career, tying him with Kevin Hartman for most all-time in MLS history. The win also was the first for Salt Lake in Colorado since October 2007, which survived defender Aaron Maund’s 47th-minute red card en route to the victory.
“It feels good to get that monkey off my back and just move forward with the season,” Rimando said of tying the record.
In front of a packed house at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Morales’ early free kick comfortably sailed over Colorado goalie Clint Irwin’s crossbar in the fifth minute, the first chance for either side.
Five minutes later, Irwin came up large for the home side, palming away Robbie Findley’s terrific volley just outside the 18 as RSL controlled the opening share of chances, capitalizing on its best opportunity just four minutes later.
With plenty of early holes in the Rapids' defense, Chris Wingert took advantage with a terrific run down the left flank, centering for Morales, and the Argentine made no mistake with a perfect corner finish from just inside the top of the box, giving the hundreds of visiting claret-and-cobalt fans plenty of reasons to celebrate the 14th minute 1-0 lead.
The goal was 34-year-old Morales’ sixth of the season, and perhaps his most important.
But after the goal, the Rapids found their footing, pressuring the RSL back line with a series of oh-so-close chances. In the 28th minute, Rapids leading scorer Deshorn Brown should have equalized, but the Jamaican’s simple toe poke just in front of goal went wildly high over the crossbar — allowing RSL to breathe a brief sigh of relief.
Three minutes later, Rapids midfielder Nick LaBrocca’s blast just outside the box barely flew over Nick Rimando’s goal. Colorado controlled the tempo and the chances for the remainder of the half, but RSL held the all-important 1-0 advantage after 45.
On the other side of the break, however, RSL handed Colorado an immediate lifeline. With just Maund and Colorado midfielder Vicente Sanchez going for the ball and no one behind him, Maund deservedly received a straight red card for a breakaway takedown of the Uruguayan, leaving RSL to play a man down for the rest of the match.
“I didn’t see it,” Cassar said after the game of the red card.
Despite the advantage, it took awhile for the Rapids to muster opportunities against a stingy RSL back line. Brown’s 59th-minute header comfortably sailed wide of Rimando’s goal, but two minutes later another Brown header across the goal nearly trickled in.
Substitute Gabriel Torres’ tough-angled shot went straight into Rimando’s mitts in the 78th minute.
Cassar made four changes to the squad that had a 1-1 midweek draw with New York, bringing in Devon Sandoval and Findley up top, Maund to the back line and Luis Gil into the midfield. Defender Chris Schuler stayed behind after picking up a minor injury midweek.
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Gil, meanwhile, will head to the Bahamas next week for a five-day training camp with the U.S. U-23 squad, but he isn’t expected to miss any games. Also, Wingert picked up a 34th-minute yellow card and will miss Real’s upcoming match against D.C. United. So will defender Tony Beltran, who picked up an 84th-minute yellow for time-wasting.
Speaking of which, the claret-and-cobalt head home to Rio Tinto to start a two-game homestand. First up is a matchup with D.C. United next Saturday at 8 p.m.