SANDY — In the nick of time, the man of Steele rose to the occasion.
Real Salt Lake grabbed a much-needed win and snatched an important three points as they defeated Toronto FC 3-2 Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium with a last-minute goal from substitute Jonny Steele.
"It feels great, ya know. Coming off, getting another goal, getting the three points, that's the most important —getting the three points," said Steele.
While RSL finished on a high note, the game was an emotional see-saw for both fans and players.
Real got of to a fantastic start. In only the seventh minute, Kyle Beckerman put the home team on the board. Fabian Espindola earned a corner kick down the right side, where Javier Morales sent the ball to the back post. Jamison Olave was there to head it back across the middle. Chris Schuler ran at the ball, and after a high hop, he was forced to simply put his belly on it. It was probably enough to roll into the goal on its own, but taking no chances, Beckerman was there to knock it home.
"I thought it was a pretty bright beginning," said coach Jason Kreis." We stressed over the past couple of days, and stressed the past couple of weeks that we want better starts, so obviously I'm pleased we scored in the first 15 minutes."
Things could have taken a turn the other way just ten minutes later as Olave took down Toronto's Erik Avila in the box for a penalty shot. Luckily for RSL — as any fan will remember when the team marched to the MLS Cup in 2009 — they have one of the all-time great keepers in MLS history at stopping the 12-yard free kick in Nick Rimando. The keeper from UCLA has stopped 16 of 55 penalty kicks that he has faced in MLS play. Perhaps it was that thought that went through Toronto's Torsten Frings as he sent the attempt wide left.
Salt Lake clung to its one-goal lead until the 48th minute, when Toronto drew even with Avila finishing a great string of passes to get him open in the box.
RSL was a little fortunate to regain the lead in the 57th minute as Toronto defender Rick Eckersley knocked in an own goal with RSL forward Alvaro Saborio running on to a ball near the penalty spot.
This time RSL held the lead for 20 minutes, but a Doneil Henry goal off his head as it was swung in on a corner kick evened in the 77th minute.
A draw in Dallas is an acceptable result, but not picking up the full three points against the last-place team in the league certainly is not. With that knowledge RSL threw everything forward trying to avoid that scenario.
"I think the performance was pretty darn good. We had a ton, a ton of scoring chances. On a different night I think we win that game, handily," said Kreis. "On the other side, the honest truth is we could have lost this game because we took a ton of risks there at the end going forward like crazy.
"(Joao) Plata got in twice on us on the left channel of the field, and if he scores one of those, probably we're really disappointed and maybe I'm banging head against this wall behind me here for taking so many risks," added Kreis. "But fortune favors the bold, I guess. And when we're home we know we come for three points, and anything less is unacceptable."
Chance after chance for RSL was saved or missed. Steele, who had entered the game in the 82nd minute for Ned Grabavoy was involved in a couple of the chances. But it was the final, calm, calculated strike off his favored left foot that sent the 17,629 fans into a frenzy in the closing seconds.
"I told Becks (Beckerman) before to look for me the next time cause the one before I thought was there. So he took a touch and laid it off =85 He set it nice, you know, set it perfect and I just ran onto it."
"It was a great way to finish the game. I think the game could have been a lot easier, but it was a dogfight. We didn't give up," said Beckerman. "We just kept pushing, kept pushing kept pushing and it was a great finish by Johnny."
After going 0-2-1 on their recent three-game road trip, RSL is happy to have the three points. They are almost as happy they will have a full week at home to train as a full squad as they prepare to host the New England Revolution next Saturday night.
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