SANDY — It wasn’t the prettiest of wins for Real Salt Lake so far in this MLS campaign, but the packed house at Rio Tinto Stadium definitely didn’t leave disappointed after Real Salt Lake held on for a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact.
With this match being the first-ever meeting against the Impact, many fans (and probably RSL players) didn’t really know what to expect as far as tactics and lineups were concerned. After the tough loss at New York, the Impact made wholesale changes to their lineup, starting five new players and switching to more of a 4-5-1 formation to clog the midfield and the possession game that RSL utilizes so well.
Jason Kreis also made changes as the club was playing the second of three games in an eight-day span. Last week’s hero Jonny Steele and another newcomer, defender Terakazu Tanaka, both started for the first time in their MLS careers, while RSL vet Will Johnson got his first start of the young season.
The scoring started early on in the match in the 13th minute as Paulo Jr. slotted a penalty kick past Impact keeper Donovan Ricketts following a hand-ball in the box, and RSL fans in attendance celebrated along with the Brazilian. Many nearby fans expected that the goals would keep coming and that the game was essentially over after that first goal.
But the game is 90 minutes long, and Montreal was probably unlucky not to score an equalizing goal in the first half. At least three separate times early in the match, Montreal had players who were unmarked by an RSL defender on set pieces; in most cases, the ball missed the open player by a small margin or the game could have turned out differently.
Even though the game was what Kreis called afterward the “worst of the season,” RSL did have chances to extend the lead. In the 29th minute, Chris Schuler volleyed a ball from a Kyle Beckerman free kick just inches over the cross bar. Just before halftime, Ricketts made a diving save on a Paulo Jr. shot, which Fabian Espindola then knocked the rebound off the crossbar with a header.
Even the second half had some more good chances for the home team to put more goals on the board, and therefore, put the game out of reach. The crowd of over 20,000 was anxious to see more goals from the Claret and Cobalt, but the Montreal defense players came up big over and over to keep themselves in the match.
The biggest save of the match may have come in the 67th minute. Espindola flicked a header for the lower corner of the goal, to a space that appeared to be open to the left of the keeper. The powerful shot looked to be bound for the back of the net, but Ricketts made a diving save at the last minute that pushed the shot around the post and out of play.
The Impact wouldn’t give up, however, and pressured the RSL defense repeatedly over the last 15 or more minutes of the match. RSL held on for the win, even though it was almost as if the home team was playing with only nine players, due to injuries to Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy.
Both players gutted it out and did the best they could to help hold onto the full three points, and the sold-out crowd showed its appreciation with loud cheering and singing, until the referee’s final whistle.
If it weren’t for a couple of great defensive plays and equally big saves from Nick Rimando, the RSL faithful may have left the beloved RioT (Rio Tinto Stadium) disappointed with the result again, as they did with the loss to Chivas a few weeks ago. But the fans realize that sometimes a team can play an average game (or worse) and still grind out the needed result. And those types of results will matter more as the season goes on.
Landon Walters is a history and political science major currently studying at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. His email is [email protected].