SANDY — Real Salt Lake is starting to figure out how to grind out results again, and the timing couldn't be better with the MLS regular season marathon heading into the final seven weeks.
A week after grinding out a result at Chivas USA despite playing a man down for over an hour, a depleted RSL side showed tons of grit beating Philadelphia 2-1 Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium for its first two-game winning streak since early July.
RSL coach Jason Kreis wasn't necessarily pleased with the quality of the soccer, but the result was particularly satisfying considering the number of players who were unavailable because of injuries, suspension and national team call-ups.
"I don't walk away from this game thrilled with the soccer, I think everybody saw it wasn't a very pretty game. It wasn't one of our most pleasing to the eye," said Kreis. "I would've liked to control the tempo a lot better than we did tonight, but we have to walk away happy that the guys fought so hard."
RSL was under consistent pressure the final 10 or 15 minutes, but the defense did just enough to secure the victory in front of 18,720 fans.
With the win Real Salt Lake (12-7-6) vaults past Colorado into fourth place in the Western Conference with 42 points. It now trails second-place Seattle by six points and third-place Dallas by four points, but it has played two fewer games than both.
"It was a huge game for us, this was one of those games we had in hand. It had a lot of importance for us," said captain Kyle Beckerman, who paced RSL to the 2-0 lead 26 minutes into the match with a goal and an assist.
Philadelphia pulled a goal back in the 30th minute, but Real Salt Lake did the necessary little things the rest of the way.
"We identified about a month ago there are so many details that we were letting slip. We needed to improve on all those little details and one of those things is how we finish games," said Kreis. "To see it tonight again shows that we're improving, and I think improving at the exact right time."
After a sluggish start for both teams, Beckerman uncorked a scintillating strike from 22 yards out that tailed away into the upper right corner of the net for the 1-0 lead in the 18th minute.
Eight minutes later Chris Schuler, who was starting in place of suspended Nat Borchers, doubled the advantage by outjumping Union defender Sheanon Williams to head home a Beckerman corner kick.
"He's kind of little," said a smiling Schuler after the match. "I got lucky with the match-up."
The goal was Schuler's second of the year and first since April 9 at New England. He came inches away from a second goal late in the first half as his header drifted just wide.
Real Salt Lake's two-goal cushion didn't last long though.
In the 30th minute Sebastien Le Toux did very well to volley in a driven cross from Justin Mapp to trim the deficit to 2-1.
Over the final hour, Real Salt Lake was the more dangerous attacking team and Fabian Espindola squandered a couple of great opportunities to tack on an insurance goal. In the 38th minute he tried to chip Philadelphia keeper Faryd Mondragon on a breakaway, but a Union defender tracked back to clear it before it crossed the line.
Midway through the second half Espindola darted between three Philadelphia defenders into the box, but his one-on-one attempt with backup Philly keeper Zac MacMath was saved and the rebound was cleared off the line by defender Danny Califf.
RSL had several opportunities to put the game away as it outshot struggling Philadelphia 17-4.
"We had some chances to put that game away so it's not such a grind at the end where they're just lobbing balls into the box, but I thought we dealt with it pretty well," said Ned Grabavoy, who entered the match in the 73rd minute for his first appearance in over a month as he recovered from a groin injury.
RSL hopes to build on the momentum and go for a third straight victory at Seattle next weekend.