SEATTLE — As it always does, league-leading Real Salt Lake set out to play good soccer and create lots of quality scoring chances when it took the pitch against the Seattle Sounders here.
Those two things have certainly been ingrained in the club's DNA at this point.
However, the club wasn't obvious to the situation it was in.
RSL knew it was playing its third match in seven days after traveling back and forth across the country.
It knew it was facing a red-hot Seattle team that had won five games in a row.
It knew it was playing in front of a cauldron of noise.
In that environment, Salt Lake simply kept its composure and did what it needed to walk away with three points in front of 39,312 fans inside CenturyLink Field.
Striker Fabian Espindola scored in the 51st minute with a lethal finish, and Real Salt Lake turned in a very professional performance to emerge with a huge 1-0 victory Saturday evening.
"I think it was a really mature performance — really from Minute 1 on through," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "It wasn't a brilliant performance by any means, but for the stretches that we were really under it, our guys were really unfazed and looked pretty calm.
"They were very mature and very together."
That maturity and togetherness helped Real increase its lead atop the MLS table. With the win, RSL moved four points clear of San Jose and Seattle.
Both clubs have games in hand on Salt Lake. RSL, however, heads into a two-week layoff knowing it has earned more points than anyone else up to this point in the relatively young season.
Espindola, eight days removed from witnessing the birth of his first child, helped Salt Lake get there Saturday evening.
Following a scoreless first half in which both teams had had some bright moments, Espindola was Johnny-on-the-spot to capitalize on an error by Seattle's previously imperious defense to put RSL ahead in the 51st minute.
RSL midfielder Luis Gil attempted to play a ball forward to striker Alvaro Saborio, which Saborio flicked back into the path of Gil approximately 30 yards from goal.
Gil looked up and chipped the ball toward Espindola near the edge of the 18-yard box. Seattle right back Adam Johansson was marking Espindola, but he whiffed on a clearance and the ball cleanly fell into the path of Espindola.
RSL's veteran striker left no doubt with a tremendously lethal strike with his left foot that blasted across the face of goal and in the right-hand post.
"It was a good goal," Espindola dead-panned.
It sure was.
Kreis pointed out afterward the element of fortune in the strike — Johannson whiffing to open up an opportunity for Espindola — but the Argentine nonetheless took the chance wonderfully.
"He took it really, really well, and I think probably quicker than (Seattle goalkeeper Bryan) Meredith was expecting him to," said Kreis.
With his strike, Espindola became RSL's all-time leading goal scorer with 30.
Following Espindola's goal, RSL did what it needed to walk away with the points.
RSL's outfield players all did their jobs, and goalkeeper Nick Rimando made plays when required to help the club hang on to its lead.
Seattle inevitably came at RSL over the final 15 minutes, but apart from an attempted clearance header by Jamison Olave that went back towards goal and caused a scramble in the 88th minute, RSL simply did what whatever it needed to keep the Sounders off the scoreboard.
"The biggest thing was to stay focused," said Beckerman. "We kept telling everyone, 'Stay focused, stay focused.' One lapse in focus, and it could cost us three points. We worked so hard to get to that point of the game tobe in a position to win that we didn't want to let ourselves down."
RSL stayed focused, and now it heads into a two-week layoff knowing it sits atop the MLS table.
"I think it's an absolute ideal situation," said Kreis. "It's always goingto be a tendency for the guys to let down when they know that they've got along break ahead of them, and they didn't do it.
"So now we get to enter the break and feel like we really earned this break that we're going to get."
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