SANDY — The passion was back at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night.
Spurred on by one of its most spirited efforts of the summer, RSL snapped its four-game losing streak over all competitions with a convincing 2-0 win over Panama club Tauro FC in CONCACAF Champions League group play.
It could've easily been a six- or seven-goal win without the heroics of Tauro keeper Alvaro Anzola, whose first-half clean sheet featured several acrobatic saves. Real Salt Lake's finishing was definitely more clinical in the second half though, and now it can definitely breath easier after securing the full three points in the must-win situation against Tauro in the second of four CCL group games.
"I think we're in a good spot, but I wouldn't go any further than that. We did ourselves right by getting a result, a 2-0 result ... but it's going to hurt to not have our captain available for the next match," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
About the only negative to come out of the match for RSL — outside of not finishing a chance or two in the first half — was a 72nd-minute red card to Kyle Beckerman. His ejection prevented RSL from really pushing forward for another goal or two, and goal differential in the Champions League could ultimately be an important tie-breaker.
Real Salt Lake can't really concern itself with that right now though. After dropping its first group game in Costa Rica against Herediano last month, Salt Lake knew anything less than a win on Tuesday would spoil its hopes for advancement, and it got the result it needed.
After a frustrating first 45 minutes of scoreless soccer, came out and took care of business early in the second half.
In the 48th minute Paulo Jr. made a fantastic slaloming run into the box through several Tauro defenders, and even though Anzola denied Paulo Jr.'s shot, Alvaro Saborio was in perfect position to clean up the rebound for the 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, Beckerman doubled the advantage with a driven shot from the top of the box on an assist from Paulo Jr.
"We were right on the brink of driving ourselves to madness and frustration for not scoring a goal in the first half after so many chances, but it was good to see the guys stuck with it," said Kreis.
Knowing the importance of goal differential in CONCACAF tiebreakers and seeding for the quarterfinals, RSL kept pushing forward for more goals despite the 2-0 lead. Beckerman's reckless challenge in the 72nd minute forced his team to be a little more cautious the rest of the match though.
It also hurts RSL going forward as he'll be suspended for the club's next Champions League game at Tauro FC in Panama on Sept. 18.
"If you put yourself in positions for referees to make decisions, sometimes they're going to make wrong ones, and it's going to effect you and your team," said Kreis.
Without the heroics of Tauro keeper Alvaro Anzola, and his best friend the post, RSL could've easily led 4-0 at the half.
Ned Grabavoy was denied with a great save by Anzola in the 16th minute, and then Saborio's rebound shot deflected just over the crossbar. In the 36th minute, Grabavoy was stoned by the left post on a cracker of a shot from the top of the box.
To counter RSL's mounting pressure, Tauro's players resorted quickly to the tactics of feigning injury and time wasting on several occasions. Even though the sell-out Rio Tinto Stadium crowd grew increasingly frustrated, RSL kept its cool and created several more chances before halftime.
Paulo Jr.'s powerful shot in the 39th minute was athletically blocked by Anzola, and incredibly Anzola got a finger tip to Paulo Jr.'s rebound shot from the same position.
Just before halftime, the Colombian keeper came up big one more time swatting a goal-bound Saborio header just over the crossbar.
RSL was never worried heading into the locker room at the half.
"We knew they were going to struggle in the second half," said Johnson.
Real Salt Lake will quickly turn its attention back to league play this Friday when it tries to snap a three-game losing streak in MLS play at Philadelphia.