Nick is incredible. He's ageless. —Mike Petke
SANDY — To borrow a slogan from Utah’s other professional franchise, the rest of MLS better “take note” because Real Salt Lake’s playoff resume is looking better and better each day. And if it ultimately does qualify for the playoffs, watch out, because RSL is playing some of the best soccer in MLS just as the temperatures start to chill.
First it needs to get there though, and Saturday was a huge step in that direction as Real Salt Lake blanked Seattle 2-0 behind goals from Jefferson Savarino and Luke Mulholland amid steady rain at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The win improved Real Salt Lake’s record to 7-2-3 over its past 12 matches, and in the process it snapped Seattle’s 13-game unbeaten streak that dated back to June 17. Only Atlanta has collected more points over the past 12 games than Real Salt Lake.
“I think we’re in the best form and I think all the other teams know that as well. We messed up the start of the season and now we’re making up for it, and I don’t think there’s a team that wants to play us at the moment,” said Albert Rusnak.
With the victory, RSL vaulted into sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference standings. It sits two points clear of San Jose and Houston and three points clear of FC Dallas.
Salt Lake will try to continue its playoff push next Saturday at the L.A. Galaxy, which owns the worst home record in MLS.
“Our mentality is we needed to get three points every game. Our mentality going into L.A. might change a little bit tactically because we’re on the road, but the mindset is the same. We’re not going to sit back, we have to go,” said Petke.
After a scoreless first half, it didn’t take RSL long to swing momentum its way early in the second half.
In the 52nd minute Savarino ran onto a perfectly weighted pass from Rusnak and fired it into the opposite inside netting for the 1-0 lead just before Seattle defender Osvaldo Alonso could block his shot.
The goal was the sixth of the season for Savarino, while the assist was Rusnak’s 13th.
In the 64th minute, Savarino was the distributor in doubling the advantage on Mulholland’s third goal of the season.
The goal came quickly in transition as Joao Plata sprung Savarino into a cavern of open space up the right side. Savarino took one touch into the box and then whipped a ball in across the 6-yard box that Mulholland banged into the top netting.
“I didn’t see anybody getting into the mix and I knew I just had to make that run whether it was to take defenders away or if Savarino was going to play me. Fortunately I was able to keep it under the crossbar,” said Mulholland.
RSL kept Seattle’s attack in check over the last half hour, thanks in large part to a pair of big saves by Nick Rimando late in the game.
“Nick is incredible. He’s ageless,” said Petke. “He comes up big when it’s needed.”
RSL wasn’t as sharp as it would’ve liked in the first half, but Rusnak said it was perhaps expected with the pressure to win.
“We were a bit sloppy. We lost the ball on many occasions softly, but that’s due to there was more pressure on us than there was on Seattle. We needed this win much more, we need the points more than they do,” said Rusnak.
Salt Lake was fortunate to avoid an early deficit thanks to some emergency defending from Justen Glad.
In the sixth minute, Will Bruin split RSL’s two center backs to track down a through ball from Victor Rodriguez. Before Bruin could get a shot off after dribbling around Rimando, Glad tracked back and cleared the ball out for a corner kick.
Chances were tough to come by for both teams the rest of the half in an extremely even game, with RSL holding a slight 52-48 edge in possession.
Real Salt Lake tried to transition quickly whenever opportunities presented themselves, but Seattle outside backs Nouhou Tolo and Kelvin Leerdam did well to intercept numerous diagonal balls to the wings.
Real Salt Lake upped the pace even more early in the second half and pounced on the chances when they presented themselves to continue its march up the standings.