SANDY — Shortly after Real Salt Lake polished off Vancouver 1-0 in the opener at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, defender Nedum Onuoha joked, “I think our aim for the season is to give Nicky (Rimando) the easiest year of his career so far.”
Almost anything would be an improvement upon the 58 goals RSL conceded last season, but two games into the 2019 season it’s indeed looking like it will be a less busy season for Rimando.
A week after only facing one shot in a 1-1 draw with Houston, Rimando was only called upon five times to make saves in earning the 145th regular season shutout of his career.
More important than the shots is the goals allowed, or lack thereof.
Through two games Real Salt Lake has only allowed one goal. The last time that happened was in 2013 when the club finished second in the Western Conference during the regular season and advanced to MLS Cup.
In 2011 and 2012 RSL also only allowed one goal through the first two games, years it competed near the top of the West as well.
The performance against Vancouver on Saturday was far from perfect, but Onuoha said that’s not a bad thing.
“I think we could’ve played better, but I think the fact we can win without playing our best is definitely a good sign,” he said, before adding that clean sheets aren’t everything.
“For as much as we kept the clean sheet today, which was great, the win was the bigger thing. If we win 9-8 every week between now and the end of the season, it doesn’t really bother me.”
Rimando might balk at giving up eight goals a game in his final season, but that was far from the case against the Whitecaps, who were really only dangerous in the final 20 minutes of the game as they pushed forward for the equalizer.
Late in the game there were a few nervy moments as Vancouver created 1-v-1 situations against RSL’s outside backs in space, but only a couple of those opportunities led to half-chances.
One of those was a clear-cut header by Vancouver defender Doneil Henry, but he headed the ball straight to Rimando in what might’ve been the most difficult save of the night.
“There were key moments in the second half, particularly out wide with a guy like Aaron (Herrera) going up against a lot of pace and he did an excellent job. Nedum and Marcelo (Silva) shifted very well together, and Everton (Luiz) and Kyle (Beckerman) put incredible work in tonight,” said RSL coach Mike Petke.
Nick Besler entered the game as a third center back in the 87th minute to expand the backline a bit more and give Hererra and Brooks Lennon more cover out wide.
While he praised the defense for a solid 90-minute performance, collectively Petke said the team was excellent for about 60 to 75 minutes as the club avenged last year’s awful home-opening loss to Los Angeles FC.
Building on the confidence it displayed in Houston last weekend, Real Salt Lake came out on the front foot against Vancouver, controlling possession throughout the opening 30 minutes.
The possession led to the game’s only goal in the 21st minute as Albert Rusnak smashed a vicious penalty kick into the upper right corner of the net for the early 1-0 lead.
The ref didn’t hesitate pointing to the spot as Jakob Nerwinski lunged in to win the ball from Corey Baird inside the box after a through ball from Herrera.
Vancouver’s players pleaded with the ref that Nerwinski didn’t touch Baird, while video replays were inconclusive and VAR opted not to have referee Drew Fischer review the foul.2 comments on this story
About the foul, Baird said, “I was able to get a touch in front of the outside back who brought me down.”
Rusnak buried the resulting penalty kick and has scored both RSL goals this season.
Petke was pleased with the buildup to the goal, something that happened a handful of times in the opening half hour.
“It was a good buildup from us, good possession play and being able to penetrate behind from runs out wide or from the middle, and that’s what Corey did,” said Petke.
Real Salt Lake’s next two matches are on the road at D.C. United and LAFC before returning home against FC Dallas on March 30.