SALT LAKE CITY — Like every other person who cheers for the Claret and Cobalt, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen was in a giddy mood as he left Rio Tinto Stadium on Friday night.
And who could possibly blame him?
Forward Jefferson Savarino's last-second, game-winning strike — which gave RSL a thrilling 2-1 win over defending champion Atlanta United FC — ranks up there as one of the most exciting moments in franchise history.
Bofo Saucedo, who had the club's other goal and a fun one in its own right, called Savarino's rocket shot to the far side "an unbelievable goal." Coach Mike Petke said it was "very exciting." Midfielder Albert Rusnak believed the finish was "meant to be."
He couldn't help but flash a big ol' grin while answering reporters' questions in Spanish.
Hansen shared his good mood with reporters, poking his head into the postgame media interview session as Petke walked to the microphone and offering a suggestion.
"Ask him some really hard questions," Hansen joked.
Before he continued down the hallway, the RSL owner added, "I just saw two complete games. I’m a really happy guy."
The first complete game he referred to was Real's 3-0 blowout of a good Toronto FC team at home the previous weekend. Throw in a gutsy 3-2 road win at Colorado on May 11, and there's no wonder why ownership, management, players and fans are feeling good about the team's direction.
"My owner's here," Petke said, "and I’m glad that he was here watching that, and the last two games he’s happy."
RSL takes a season-best, three-game winning streak into Wednesday's match at Montreal. This surge has helped the club improve to 6-6-1 while moving into the fifth spot in the Western Conference.
After Hansen left, Petke took the opportunity to thank the organization for its approach to team-building, which is completely different than a franchise like Atlanta and its bulging payroll. Where some teams fork over big bucks to fill their rosters, Real has combined a good mixture of strong international players with guys who've cut their teeth at the RSL Academy and minor-league Monarchs.
"I’ve talked before a long time ago about the setup in our organization, which I believe in and I like — a very pipeline, homegrown-type team," Petke said. "We’re not going out and spending millions and millions on players, and I like that. I prefer that.
"But I think that gets lost a lot of times — that there still is development within the team. When you see games like today and last week and things are clicking and players are taking responsibility and players are playing aggressively, it's what you want to see as a coach."
Real has 12 players that it classifies as homegrown, including Saucedo, who's from Park City. The 5-foot-7 spark plug has two goals and two assists this season.
"I’ve said it to the young guys since I've been here, 'You’re going to earn your spot,' and players ahead of them are also earning it," Petke said. "Bofo is taking advantage of opportunities the last couple of weeks. He still has a long way to go. He’s known the last couple of weeks what kind of player he can be."
Petke likes the versatility of his club, too. Because RSL plays three games in nine days, he mapped out lineups in which he'll alter starters and sub rotations in an effort to keep players fresh.Comment on this story
"I would be very surprised if the next two lineups go exactly how we mapped it out, but they’re pretty dang close," he said. "Some guys are coming back. Some guys are fresh. And now it’s going to be a puzzle over the next couple of days."
RSL knows it needs to continue this momentum to achieve its ultimate goals.
"We’re still well away from the playoffs," Saucedo said. "If we continue to do the same things, I don’t have a doubt in us being top five or top three (in the MLS)."