SANDY — The passion and fight that was lacking in a humiliating loss last weekend was back for Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, either, because there's just something about playing rival Colorado that brings out the best in RSL.
In front of a spirited Rio Tinto Stadium sellout crowd of 19,492, Real Salt Lake stopped the bleeding from one of its worst six-game runs (1-4-1) in franchise history with a 2-0 triumph over the Rapids.
Alvaro Saborio scored early and Will Johnson scored late as Real Salt Lake clinched the Rocky Mountain Cup for the sixth straight season.
"Pleased the guys took last weekend's result to heart. The guys worked extremely hard in training, one of the best weeks of training we've had for a very long time," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "Good to see it translate into the match tonight. I thought the guys started out fantastically well."
Kreis was particularly pleased with the manner in which RSL scored — by pressuring the compact Rapids. Saborio's goal was the result of Fabian Espindola's work rate, while Johnson's goal was the result of Saborio's pressure.
"Sometimes when you're playing teams that are very compact and very organized, the best way to get at them is win the ball in their half and go quickly towards goal," said Kreis.
With the victory, Real Salt Lake whittled San Jose's lead atop the Western Conference standings to four points, but the red-hot Quakes were idle on Saturday. They travel to Vancouver today.
The win also helped RSL clinch its sixth straight Rocky Mountain Cup, a trophy awarded annually to the winner of the season series. Even though the teams meet for a third time in Colorado in August, RSL has already clinched the Cup by virtue of a pair of 2-0 wins.
Interestingly enough, with all of the doom and gloom talk about RSL this week following its second-worst loss in franchise history at San Jose, there was no panic internally.
"It's a little bit funny 'cause I look at the team before the game and it was maybe the most relaxed I've seen our team in a long time, and I think that says a lot about this group of guys," said Ned Grabavoy, who didn't play in last week's game.
That relaxed approach led to a focused start from the opening whistle as the players paid particular attention to defending as a team and working for the guy next to them.
Saborio opened the scoring in the 32nd minute with his easiest finish of the year. To his credit, though, he waited as long as possible to see if Fabian Espindola's initial deflected shot would trickle in on its own.
Marvell Wynne deserves as much credit for the goal as anybody. His careless back pass forced keeper Matt Pickens to come off his line to try win the ball from Espindola. They got there simultaneously, with the ball popping up and rolling toward goal.
For fans hoping the soccer gods would eventually even up what they believe have been injustices for Real Salt Lake, Saborio's goal was one of those moments.
Tony Beltran's sloppy back pass against the L.A. Galaxy a month ago contributed to RSL's collapse in that game, and sent the club into a six-game funk that included last weekend's 5-0 loss at San Jose.
Wynne's back pass wasn't quite as lazy as Beltran's, but both hung their keepers out to dry and led directly to a goal. In each game, neither team recovered from the mistake.
Colorado rarely threatened in the first half on Saturday, preferring instead to sit deep in a 4-5-1 formation and try and counter. The tactics are nothing new for visiting teams to Rio Tinto Stadium, but unlike in previous games, Real Salt Lake did a much better job pressuring the backline in an effort to win the ball back.
Down a goal in the second half, Colorado was forced to push more bodies into the attack in hopes of snapping its four-game losing streak.
With Omar Cummings entering the game as a second-half substitute, the Rapids were much more dangerous and had several decent chances at equalizing before Johnson finally buried the 90th-minute insurance goal.
RSL returns to action next Friday against third-place Vancouver, which sits eight points back in the standings.
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