In the first half, things were not looking up for Albert Rusnak.
He looked at his hand after a slide tackle. His left ring finger was bending the wrong way. Dislocated.
And he received a yellow card for his tackle as well. Not to mention his team, Real Salt Lake, was being outshot, outpossesed and had given up nine corner kicks to a team that thrives on set pieces.
But then everything changed for RSL, and it came from the team's aggressiveness. In the end, Rusnak scored two goals, new striker Sam Johnson added another and Real put that four-game losing streak firmly in the rearview mirror with a 3-0 victory over expansion side FC Cincinnati in front of more than 26,000 fans Nippert Stadium in Cinicinnati.
"I'm very pleased on how they played," RSL head coach Mike Petke told Samantha Yarock on the television broadcast. "We've gone over some rough patches, but when we click and put it together, we play really well."
Just four minutes after having his fingers taped, Rusnak put RSL ahead.
Corey Baird pressed hard to win the ball back deep in FC Cincinnati's defensive third of the field. He blocked the clearance, gathered the ball along the endline. He faked a pass, took a shot that smashed off goalkeeper Spencer Richey's chest. Rusnak was waiting at the 18-yard line and pounced on the rebound.
It was Rusnak's third goal of the season.
"I felt my finger was out of place. My hand is not that important to the game, so I continued," he said. "When you score a goal, you don't feel the pain."
Despite being on the road, RSL continued to attack FCC's goal before halftime and Johnson smashed the ball into the net from inside the 6-yard box after efforts by Damir Kreilach and Baird were blocked.
"It was a good press by our team," Johnson said at halftime.
Real continued to be aggressive in the second half, and in 59th minute Jefferson Savarino was taken down inside the penalty area. Rusnak made no mistake, clobbering the penalty into the left upper corner of the goal for the 3-0 advantage.
Defensively, RSL was able to clear two headers off the line after corner kicks, one in each half. Those were Cincinnati's best chances of the game as RSL goalkeeper Andrew Putna only had to make one save. Putna earned his first career MLS shutout in his first appearance of the season, filling in for Nick Rimando.
It was only RSL's second clean sheet of the season.
"Discipline, workrate, back pressing. The commitment on the night on both sides of the ball ... that was what closed the game out," Petke said.
In its fifth road game of the season, RSL (3-4-1) finally got their first win away from home.
"It feels good, not just the win, but how we played," Rusnak said. "The style we play at home, we need to present that on the road."2 comments on this story
RSL will go for their second road victory next Saturday, April 28, at the L.A. Galaxy.
SOCCER NOTES: While RSL was on the road, brother and sister clubs Real Monarchs SLC and Utah Royals FC are home Saturday.
The Monarchs will try to bounce back from a 5-1 loss at New Mexico United while hosting rival San Antonio FC at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman at 5 p.m.
The Royals open their season by hosting the Washington Spirit at Rio Tinto Stadium at 7 p.m. The Spirit feature former BYU striker Ashley Hatch.