SANDY — Remember the scintillating first-half performance by Real Salt Lake two weeks ago that resulted in three goals against the San Jose Earthquakes?
Well, after its incredible disappearing act last week against the L.A. Galaxy, the lethal RSL attack was back in fine form Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
With all the hype and attention squarely on retooled Toronto FC heading into the match, it didn’t take Real Salt Lake long to shift the focus back on itself and remind everyone which team was one kick away from winning MLS Cup last season.
Despite concerns about RSL’s attack without injured forward Joao Plata — the club’s best attacking player during the first three weeks — Salt Lake was bright from the opening whistle in securing a convincing 3-0 victory in front of 18,881 fans.
“There was a lot of hype, a lot of things said in the press. It’s another home game for us and another opportunity to show what a good team we are, and I thought we did that tonight,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
Alvaro Saborio scored a goal in each half, and Luis Gil tacked on another midway through the first half in an impressive attacking performance from the home side.
Sure, there were some defensive breakdowns late in each half that Real Salt Lake will need to shore up in the future, but Nick Rimando cleaned up the miscues — with help from the post once — to record his second clean sheet of the season.
With the victory, Real Salt Lake remains unbeaten on the season with eight points through four matches, and securing maximum points on Saturday against Toronto’s high-priced lineup was all about the quick start.
“TFC has never had to come back. They’ve had the lead in all their games, so we really wanted to see what they’d be like under the gun,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
A very clumsy challenge by Toronto’s Doneil Henry in the 10th minute put the visitors under the gun right away.
With Saborio shielding Henry just inside the penalty area as he received a pass, Saborio tried to spin around the Toronto defender but was immediately dragged to the ground for the obvious penalty kick.
Saborio calmly stepped to the spot and buried his 70th career Real Salt Lake goal for the 1-0 lead.
“Great job by Saborio to turn in the box and get that PK. We knew once we got that first goal we had a couple more coming,” said Borchers.
An unmarked Gil doubled RSL’s advantage in the 28th minute by burying a deflected shot from distance by Chris Wingert. The rebound ended up at Gil’s feet about 14 yards from goal, and he quickly picked his spot and slotted it through Toronto’s defense for the 2-0 lead.
“Probably wasn’t the prettiest goal, but you’ve got to shoot to score, and I’ll take it,” said Gil.
Things never really got better for Toronto FC, with Real Salt Lake consistently circling the wagons around Toronto's unorganized midfield with a 60 percent edge in possession. Had it been sharper in front of goal, RSL could’ve threatened its franchise record.
RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said the energy level was vastly superior to last week’s performance, and it was contagious for the 11 players on the field.
“I thought our energy was unbelievable, especially the work from the two players up front, Sabo and (Olmes) Garcia, was unbelievable,” he said. “It starts up there. When they’re working that hard, we see it and we’re going to work right behind them.”
Unlike the previous two games in which it couldn’t hold on to early leads, Real Salt Lake tacked on a much-needed insurance goal in the 55th minute on a cheeky Saborio finish to realistically put the game out of reach at 3-0.
After Saborio timed his run in behind Toronto’s defense perfectly, Javier Morales picked him out with a delicately weighted chipped pass that Saborio knocked in off the post with a chip of his own.
Cassar said Saborio’s performance was all about his willingness to work.
“He was fantastic tonight. I think it started with his defense. He was playing unbelievable defense and challenging for every ball in the air, and I thought that brought him into the game,” said Cassar.
Unbeaten Real Salt Lake returns to action next Saturday in Kansas City for a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup, which RSL lost in a penalty shootout.