One of the only consistent things about Major League Soccer is its unpredictability.
Three nights after Real Salt Lake battled to a scoreless draw against the worst team in MLS a team playing with only 10 men no less it seemed logical RSL might struggle against league-leading New England, a team on a seven-game unbeaten streak.
It's funny how things don't always unfold as expected, especially in soccer.
RSL played a poised, intelligent game for virtually the entire 90 minutes, and Tino Nunez's 60th-minute tally propelled it to a 2-1 victory over New England and equalled a franchise-record five-game unbeaten streak.
The triumph also kept RSL unbeaten at home (4-0-4) in addition to bumping the club to second place in the Western Conference with 19 points.
"Huge win. Very, very pleased for the players," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "What's most pleasing about the win tonight was the way we handled ourselves when we had the one-goal lead. It shows that we're learning and improving. We finished that game off the way a good team does."
Protecting leads hasn't been a strength for RSL this year, having surrendering seven goals after the 76th minute. Until the problem was reigned in, a scenario in which it still made the playoffs seemed unlikely.
Against the East-leading Revolution, after Nunez put RSL in front in the 60th minute on a fortuitous bounce, the team started to play like a team that's in front every weekend.
After Morales uncorked an ambitious 28-yard shot, the ball deflected off a Revs defender and settled nicely for Nunez in the box and he beat Matt Reis with the one-on-one opportunity for the 2-1 lead. Nunez was only on the field because starter Robbie Findley left the game in the first half with a mild concussion.
Despite New England's obvious need to push forward for the equalizer, Real Salt Lake continued to be the aggressor outshooting the Revs 7-5 the rest of the way and 19-14 for the match.
"They just played smart, they just looked like a team that knew what to do when they had a lead," said Kreis. "They moved the ball well, they put themselves in good positions so that when we lost the ball they were in the right spots to win it back immediately."
RSL, which only trails the L.A. Galaxy by two points for the Western Conference lead, will try and build on its momentum next Saturday in its lone visit to Kansas City.
In what figured it be a defensive battle the entire way Saturday night, the goals started flying in early thanks largely to defensive miscues.
New England went ahead 1-0 in the eighth minute as Adam Cristman capitalized on a moment of indecision from RSL keeper Nick Rimando and defender Nat Borchers. After a booming kick from New England's keeper bounced once, Rimando and Borchers each had a chance to make a play on the ball at the top of the box, but they hesitated and Cristman snuck between them and headed it into the empty net.
"I take responsibility for that play. The ball came over the top of the head and it was one of those plays I should've just gotten rid of it immediately, but instead I tried to shield it back, and Nick and I just had a miscommunication," said Borchers.
It was the first goal RSL has allowed in the opening half hour of any match this year. The deficit didn't last very long.
Three minutes later the teams were again on even terms as New England defender Jay Heaps knocked a free kick from RSL midfielder Javier Morales into the back of his own net."That was hugely important we had a quick turnaround," Kreis said. "Had it drug on until halftime, it would've been a difficult thing to come back from mentally for the guys."
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