SANDY — Olmes Garcia busted out of his season-long scoring slump on Thursday, and in the process might’ve rescued Real Salt Lake’s season.
A loss — or even a draw — against the last-place Montreal Impact could’ve been a difficult result to overcome with so many teams bearing down on RSL in the Western Conference standings.
Garcia erased all that doubt with one flick of his head.
Just five minutes after a red card reduced Montreal to 10 men at Rio Tinto Stadium, Garcia headed home the game-winning goal on a perfect Javier Morales cross as RSL survived a big-time scare from last-place Montreal with the 3-1 victory.
For 69 minutes, the underdog Impact — who hadn’t won on the road all year — were hanging around with RSL, but Garcia changed all that with his first goal of the 2014 season, ending a 720-minute drought. He then tacked on a second in the final minute of stoppage time to ice the victory.
“We needed that more than him cause we need those guys coming in the second half, the bench, to make an impact,” said RSL midfielder Javier Morales, who assisted on both Morales goals.
With the victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 20,398, Real Salt Lake moves into sole possession of second place in the West with 32 points, three clear of FC Dallas.
RSL coach Jeff Cassar said it was great to see Garcia finally get on the score sheet, calling both goals world-class finishes.
“It’s what we want from him and he gave us that tonight. Just a fantastic performance, and he also worked very hard on the defensive side. Just a great night from him,” said Cassar.
Real Salt Lake got off to a bright start on Thursday with Luke Mulholland continuing his fantastic MLS rookie campaign, scoring his fifth goal of the season just three minutes into the match.
After teammate Chris Schuler headed a corner kick back down toward the penalty spot, Mulholland was the first player to the second ball, striking it first time just inside the left post for the early 1-0 lead.
The start was Mulholland’s first since the ridiculous red card he picked up at Chivas USA four games ago.
“I thought Luke was a beast tonight. He was taking a lot of punishment but kept grinding and going, and it looked like he was getting stronger and stronger throughout the game,” said Cassar. “Ton of credit to Luke, and that finish was fantastic to make sure he kept it on frame."
Mulholland’s strike was the second-fastest goal for Real Salt Lake this year, the other a goal in the second minute against Vancouver.
Despite last-place Montreal going down a goal early, it found gaps in RSL’s defense to create opportunities throughout the first half. In the 32nd minute, the pressure paid off. Defender Hassoun Camara sprinted into the box past Morales, latching on perfectly to a Calum Mallace pass and uncorking a shot past Nick Rimando, leveling the score 1-1.
The goal denied Rimando a chance to tie Kevin Hartman for the all-time MLS shutouts record with 112. He’s conceded a goal in seven straight games.
Joao Plata had two wonderful chances to tack on a second for Real Salt Lake in the first half. He freed himself up for a shot in the 27th minute on a sublime step-over move, but Montreal keeper Evan Bush smothered the close-range shot. In the 42nd minute, Plata made a darting run into the box but put his angle-right shot into the side netting.
RSL seemed lethargic coming out at halftime, but that changed quickly with Garcia entering the match in the 59th minute for Robbie Findley, whose hamstring was cramping a bit.
In the 61st minute, a double-save by Bush denied Morales and Garcia at the doorstep, but things were about to unravel for the Impact.
Four minutes later, the playing field completely tilted in RSL’s favor when Montreal midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran was shown a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on Schuler.
“We felt we were going to create chances no matter what, which we were, but I think that deflated them a little bit,” said Cassar. “It’s a team that’s not getting the results that they want, and then that happens, and heads go down, energy level drops a bit, he has to make a change tactically and that gives us the extra bit of spark which we needed a little bit and we took advantage of it.”
Real Salt Lake returns to action next Wednesday when it hosts the New York Red Bulls.
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