HOUSTON — The lead-up to Sunday night’s match involved a lot of discussion about Real Salt Lake’s lack of success in Houston.
Graced with an immediate opportunity to exorcise those demons, Javier Morales delivered in glorious fashion.
Morales struck with the first of his three goals 15 seconds into the match, highlighting Real Salt Lake’s 5-2 victory over the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. It is RSL’s first victory in Houston in 10 tries. It had lost eight of its previous nine matches there.
“Finally, finally,” Morales said. “It’s always hot and humid. It’s tough to play. We’re really happy.”
The midfielder made the home fans anything but happy before they had a chance to settle into their seats. He received a pass from Alvaro Saborio 25 yards from the right post. He faked a hard right-footed shot but then let up and curled it high and just under the cross bar at the far post.
The shot was so well taken it was almost impossible for goalkeeper Tally Hall to stop. It is the fastest goal in club history, breaking the previous mark of 27 seconds by Matias Mantilla in 2008.
“It was huge to take the crowd out of the game,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar, whose team remains the only one unbeaten in MLS. “It was a special play. We talked about being positive with our passing. It was an unbelievable start.”
Little did RSL know that Morales’ first goal was only the beginning of an eventful first half.
It featured three RSL goals, a red card to Houston’s Servando Cerrasco, the first professional goal by Dynamo rookie Mark Sherrod and a penalty kick save by RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Morales’ second goal was a right-footed volley from the edge of the six-yard box off Ned Grabavoy’s forward header. It gave RSL a 2-0 lead in the 17th minute.
The Dynamo (4-5-2, 14 points) cut into the deficit on the first of Sherrod’s two goals in the 22nd minute. Five minutes later, the Dynamo were down to 10 men when Cerrasco was sent off for a serious foul on Morales. With Morales facing him, Cerrasco slid with the studs up on one of his cleats.
Saborio’s header in the 32nd minute gave RSL another two-goal cushion at 3-1. Saborio had to drop his hips and ended up seated on the ground in order to get his head to the same plane as Luke Mulholland’s cross.
Rimando’s save on Giles Barnes’s 36th-minute penalty was critical. The last thing the visitors wanted was to give the Dynamo more hope at halftime.
“I know what kind of player (Barnes) is,” Rimando said. “I thought he was going to try to hit it hard to my right. I stayed big and reacted to it. It felt big because 3-2 is a different game going into the locker room.”
When RSL began the second half with a man advantage and a 3-1 lead, it looked like all of the drama might be done. Houston quickly put that thought to rest.
For the first half-hour, the Dynamo looked like the team playing with a man advantage by keeping the ball at RSL’s end. They were rewarded when in the 52nd minute Sherrod scored his second to get the Dynamo within a goal.
“I was a little worried there for a little bit,” Cassar said. “The passes were out there to complete. We made a couple of weird choices, but then I think we settled down a little bit.”
Though the Dynamo kept attacking with promise, RSL finally took the air out of the game when Mulholland scored on a 78th-minute breakaway after hustling to the end line to chase down the rebound of his own shot.
Morales’ third goal came on a penalty kick in the 89th minute. It was a fitting end for the player who started the game literally on the right foot.
“That was quick,” Morales said. “You never expect to score a goal in 20 seconds, but we expect to win the game.”