COMMERCE CITY, Colo. Just before Real Salt Lake's Robbie Findley entered the match as a 57th-minute substitute Saturday night, his coach told him he was going to get one chance so make the most of it.
He ended up wasting that chance in the 81st minute by bouncing a shot just inches past the post.
It's a good thing his coach was wrong.
Six minutes later Findley was presented with an additional scoring chance, and this time the rookie capitalized. After running down an Andy Williams through ball behind Colorado's defense, Findley blasted a shot past charging keeper Bouna Coundoul, securing RSL'S 1-0 victory over rival Colorado, but more importantly clinching the Rocky Mountain Cup.
"I thought about him saying that too, because that was the last thing he said before I went in," Findley said. "I tried to let it go as quick as I can, and I was able to get another chance and I finished it."
After the match, RSL coach Jason Kreis joked that "50 percent's not bad."
The win helped Real clinch a consolation prize the Rocky Mountain Cup which is awarded to the winner of the Colorado-RSL season series. Colorado hoisted the trophy the past two years, but Salt Lake returned the favor by winning the season series 2-1-1 after Saturday's win in the regular season finale.
"It feels particularly good because we put a lot of focus and attention into this game, and it's one of those instances where you set your sights on something ... and getting everybody to buy into this Rocky Mountain Cup," Kreis said. "It can seem very trivial to a lot of people, but for us it means something, and it meant something tonight, and to put all of that focus and attention on it and go out and complete it feels very good."
Real defender Eddie Pope celebrated Findley's goal on the bench, having been replaced by Chris Lancos in the 54th minute because of a nagging injury. It didn't deter him from enjoying the moment in the final match of his career.
"I was going to try and just stick it out, but at that point we wanted to get somebody in there who's 100 percent, and I think it paid off for us with a goal in the end," Pope said. "It's good to go out with the win and Rocky Mountain Cup."
For long stretches of Saturday's match it didn't seem as anyone would score, and that was before a howling wind kicked up early in the second half. The fact it was gusting directly into Colorado's face should've served as an omen for the Rapids. They desperately needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, but doing so while attacking into a stiff wind seemed an all too daunting task.
It didn't help either that Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando came up with a pair of spectacular saves less than a minute after Findley's eventual game-winner.
When asked about it after the match, RSL's team MVP couldn't help but grin.
"We wanted to play for something, we were out of the playoffs but coming in here we knew we could knock them out of the playoffs and we knew we could win this cup and bring it back," he said. "It's a special day for the club and special day for us."
Rimando finished the game with six saves in a fairly even match both in terms of statistics and overall quality of play.
In many respects, RSL had no business earning the shutout. The Rapids wasted a golden opportunity in the 32nd minute when Colin Clarke missed a shot no professional soccer player should ever miss. After slipping in behind RSL's defense at the top of the box Clarke took a touch around the charging Rimando, but he inexcusably banged his empty-net shot off the post.Over the next two minutes RSL missed on a pair of scoring chances, the first a long-range shot attempt by Nate Sturgis and the second on a breakaway chance from Fabian Espindola that was smothered by Rapids keeper Bouna Coundoul.
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