HARRISON, N.J. — Forget the one-game-at-a-time cliché.
Real Salt Lake is looking towards the Major League Soccer playoffs. And to winning the franchise's second MLS Cup in three years.
"I believe we should be considered a contender for the championship," Jason Kreis said after Real Salt Lake's 3-1 rout of the New York Red Bulls at Red Bulls Arena Wednesday night.
Real Salt Lake won their fifth straight game and improved to 15-7-6 on the season and their 51 points are tied with Seattle for second most in the MLS. Real Salt Lake has six games remaining in the regular season and only needs one win to clinch a playoff berth. That could happen as soon as Saturday night in Washington, D.C.
Real Salt Lake arrived in Newark, N.J., Monday. With a day's rest, they were the fresher, more enthusiastic, more aggressive and smarter team on the pitch. It only took 21 minutes for that to be evident to the 14,266 in attendance. Real Salt Lake scored all three of its goals in that span.
Alvaro Saborio's header over Frank Rost's outstretched arm in the seventh minute opened the scoring. The goal was the ninth of the season for Saborio.
Fabian Espindola increased Real Salt Lake's advantage to 2-0 with an unassisted goal in the 11 minute off an inexplicable turnover by New York defender Tim Ream. Ream lightly tapped the ball back in the box, ostensibly looking for Rost, who was not prepared for the pass. Espindola dribbled around Rost and had a wide open net to target for his seventh goal of the season.
Ten minutes later Espindola ended any pretense of a competitive game when he slipped behind Red Bulls defender Rafael Marquez and beat Rost to the right side. Espindola's ninth tied Saborio for the team lead and was his second career two-goal game. Marquez was booed every time he touched the ball following the goal.
Real Salt Lake's three-goal first-half explosion marked the third time in franchise history that the team scored three times in one half. Real Salt Lake last scored three goals in one half in the 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 26. Real Salt Lake could have gone into halftime with a 4-0 lead but Collen Warner overshot an empty goal in the 44th minute.
"Too much space, it's a huge field," Espindola said of New York's defensive strategy. "It was a little bit of an advantage for us."
The underachieving, yet star-laden Red Bulls fell to 7-7-15 and spent much of the evening yelling at each other. New York was only able to muster three shots on goal — all in the second half.
Joel Lindpere's spectacular bicycle kick goal ended Nick Rimando's shutout bid in the 69th minute.
"We don't want to put them in position where they are blocking balls; we want them to win stuff but I think we dropped back a little bit too much in the second half. When they needed to step up and block those shots they did a great job," Rimando said of his defense.
RSL's 'keeper finished with two saves because six of New York's shots were off target while two others were blocked by the defense.
Lindpere nearly scored two minutes prior but his drive slammed off the bottom of the crossbar and did not cross the goal line.
"I don't know. I thought I saw it go in on the replay. I'm not sure. It's one of those bounces," Rimando said of the controversial non-goal.
The game marked Yordany Alvarez's first MLS start. Kreis decided to start the Cuban defector in the midfield five days after he and Nico Muniz were signed from Orlando City of the USL Pro Division and the RSL-Arizona Academy, respectively.
Alvarez played in 61 games over three seasons for the Austin Aztex-turned-Orlando City. He scored five goals in three years and was named the 2011 USL Pro Division Most Valuable Player.
"In the end it was good. The opening 10 or so minutes, 15 minutes, I thought he was confused," Kreis said. "It took a little bit for him to adjust but by the end of the game I was really pleased with his contribution.
"I sensed jitters, which is natural. I thought he made some critical tackles towards the end of the match. He was mostly good with the ball. All in all, a really strong performance for his first time out and something to build on."