SANDY — Jonny Steele has quickly become a fan favorite since joining Real Salt Lake at the beginning of the MLS season.
His fanbase will undoubtedly grow even more as he again made an impact as a late-game substitute for Jason Kreis’ team, scoring a game-winning goal in stoppage time against Toronto FC Saturday night inside Rio Tinto Stadium.
Steele's goal allowed RSL to prevail 3-2 over TFC.
After RSL put a goal on the board in the seventh minute thanks to Kyle Beckerman, many of the over 17,000 in attendance no doubt felt as if Toronto was done for because of the Reds' poor defending in six previous league games this year.
But a dangerous play in the RSL penalty area by Jamison Olave led to a possible game-tying penalty kick for Toronto midway through the first half. The fans were upset at the call and felt as if the team was about to be on the short end of a referee’s decision again in this young season.
The entire stadium collectively exhaled, however, as TFC captain and German international Torsten Frings glanced the penalty off the post to RSL 'keeper Nick Rimando’s right and the ball trickled out of play for a goal kick.
The fans felt lucky their team still held the lead.
RSL had chances to add to its advantage before the halftime break, but the TFC defense held up just enough to go into the locker room only down one goal.
Then, a great run by TFC’s Eric Avila just after the second half resumed pulled the game back level at 1-1 as he made a beautiful move around and through the RSL defense and placed his shot just out of reach of the diving Rimando.
Only ten minutes later, a Toronto own goal gave RSL the lead again and the crowd was ready to explode.
But Toronto wasn’t done fighting yet as it equalized again.
In the 77th minute, TFC used a corner kick to its advantage. Doneil Henry scored off a header as the RSL defense allowed yet another goal from a set piece.
With both teams playing even soccer for the next five minutes or so, Kreis went to his bench and subbed on Jonny Steele for Ned Grabavoy. With only eight minutes in regulation plus any added time, there wasn’t going to be much time for him to get into the flow of the game and hopefully make a mark on the match.
Many fans were just hopeful to hang on to a draw at that point rather than allow Toronto to continue to attack and earn the full three points.
But eight minutes was more than enough for Steele, as he pressured the Toronto defense and then slammed home a loose ball in the box for the game-winner.
Much like the game on the road at Portland, Steele proved that you always need to play the full 90 minutes and that anything can happen. He ultimately played the role of spoiler to a Toronto team that was so close to earning its very first point of the season.
The jubilation that fans were feeling at that moment was equally as crushing for the TFC players; many of them simply collapsed on the pitch at Rio Tinto as the RSL players mobbed Steele and the fans sang the "Believe" anthem probably the loudest that it was heard all night in celebration of the late-game heroics and the full three points.
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].