Given another opportunity, Robbie Findley made amends.
In what his Real Salt Lake coach dubbed the biggest game of the season, Findley hit the post in the first half on one of the easiest shots he'll see all year. It was a bad miss, but its ramifications weren't fully realized until Toronto's Amada Guevara's tied Monday's game on late goal. All of the sudden, RSL was staring at another draw at home in a match coach Jason Kreis said it had to win.
Findley recognized the desperate situation and pounced on a half-chance in the 87th minute to notch the winning goal in a critical 2-1 victory for Real Salt Lake over Toronto FC.
"To give away a goal late in the game and to react the way they did makes me incredibly proud ... to not only be leading this group but to feel like I'm part of this group," said Kreis.
The win moved Real Salt Lake four points clear of second-place Houston and Los Angeles in the Western Conference, and at 7-6-6 RSL has its first winning record in franchise history.
Kyle Beckerman uncorked the initial shot that led to the goal, but Toronto keeper Greg Sutton punched his powerful shot away. It caromed to Findley at the edge of the penalty area, but his heavy first touch looked like it was going to trickle away from him. Findley wasn't going to be denied though, making a lunging stab at the ball in front of two diving Toronto defenders and hammering it home.
"He's fearless, he really is. After he missed that one in the first half we told him to stick with it, you're going to get another chance," said Beckerman. "He's a goal scorer and he just continues to get better and that's great for us and hopefully that just continues."
It was Findley's team-leading fifth goal of the season, and sent RSL into an 18-day break on a positive note and in first place.
Establishing that cushion heading into that break is why Kreis said Monday's match was the biggest of the season - a comment he admitted in hindsight might've put too much pressure on his team.
While RSL rests until its next match on Aug. 16, most of the other teams in the West play multiple games. There's a very good chance RSL won't be in first place after its nearly three-week break, that's why picking up the full three points was so critical.
"Ever since I took over as a coach I've tried to get the players to focus game for game," said Kreis. "For me I wanted to put the focus just on this game. There was no talk that it was a must win to make the playoffs, it was just a must win to be a better team."
When Findley hit the post in the 27th minute, there was a sinking sense at Rice-Eccles Stadium that RSL's goal-scoring woes were going to continue. After all, the team has had three scoreless draws at home already this year.37 comments on this story
It took a defender to finally find the back of the net for RSL. In the 63rd minute Jamison Olave towered to head home a Chris Wingert delivery from the right sideline. Olave was still up top following a corner kick and after narrowly beating Toronto's offsides trap he had acres of space and time to pick out his spot and bury his first MLS goal.
Riding a streak of three straight shutouts, RSL seemed destined to make it four as the clock ticked closer to 90. Guevara spoiled those hopes, however, with a scintillating 28-yard bending free kick into the net's upper reaches.
It only took three minutes for Salt Lake to regain the lead, as Kreis joked that previous teams might've surrendered a second goal and lost.RSL outshot Toronto 20-13 to improve to 6-0-5 at home.