Shutout streak continues for Real Salt Lake.SANDY, Utah -- A penalty kick goal from Alvaro Saborio in first-half stoppage time was all Real Salt Lake needed to secure another three points at home, beating the Chicago Fire 1-0 in front of 14,449 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. The end of the first half was the clear high point of the match, as the foul that resulted in RSL’s penalty kick also got Wilman Conde sent off for Chicago.
As is so often the case at Rio Tinto, the early minutes were controlled by Salt Lake. The home team were easily the more threatening side, and Chicago seemed to have plenty of miscommunication and difficulties getting the ball out of their defensive third. As a result, Real had three corners in the first eight minutes, but they weren’t able to make the Fire pay.
Chicago dominated the next ten minutes, earning themselves a few good looks, but like RSL in the opening minutes, they couldn’t generate any good scoring chances. Their first good one didn’t come until the 22nd minute when Collins John got himself free about 25 yards from goal. John took a rocket of a shot that grazed the crossbar as it went over.
In the 24th minute, Salt Lake had their first good opportunity as Ned Grabavoy lobbed a soft ball over the defense for Robbie Findley. Findley attempted to chip goalkeeper Sean Johnson with his first touch, but his chip had too much weight on it and it missed high.
Salt Lake’s next good scoring chance came in the 32nd minute when Andy Williams found space 30 yards from goal, right in the middle of the field. He took a powerful right-footed shot that had Johnson beat, but is slid just wide of the left post.
After a closely contested first half, it all fell apart for the Fire in first half stoppage time. A chip over the defense by Saborio for the running Grabavoy was halted when Wilman Conde hauled down Grabavoy from behind in the box, leaving referee Jorge Gonzalez no choice but to point to the spot. Saborio stepped up and calmly buried the penalty to give RSL the 1-0 lead.
Conde’s goal-saving foul on Grabavoy earned him a yellow card, his second of the match, resulting in Chicago going down to 10 men. So after playing toe-to-toe with Salt Lake for the entire first half, the wheels fell off for the Fire as they went to intermission.
With the match turned on its head just before the break, both teams changed tactics as they came out of the locker room. The Fire were forced into pressing more despite being down a man, while Real were focused on establishing and maintaining possession. The tactic worked best for RSL in the early part of the second period. After a long string of passes in the 53rd minute, Kyle Beckerman nearly doubled the advantage with a long-range strike, but Johnson did well to save it.
Unable to get anything substantial going in the run of play, Chicago were forced to look for the equalizer off the set piece. In the 67th minute they had a good free kick opportunity near the right corner of the RSL penalty area, but Marco Pappa’s free kick was hopelessly high.
In the 77th minute, Salt Lake got a burst of energy from their new arrival Paulo Araujo Jr. Within seconds of entering the match, he took a pass from Nelson Gonzalez and dribbled into the box before banging a hard shot off the left post.
Just one minute later, the Fire came close to leveling the match thanks to some nifty passing right up the middle of the Salt Lake defense. Despite being heavily outmanned in the final third, Chicago managed to work the ball up to Patrick Nyarko. He managed to get off a shot while under heavy pressure, but his shot missed the post by just a few inches.
With this match in the books, Chicago now return home to face the Seattle Sounders next Saturday in Ljungberg’s first match against his former team. Real Salt Lake will pack their bags and head to Panama for a midweek Champion’s League match against Arabe Unido. Wednesday’s match represents the halfway point for RSL’s torrid stretch of six matches in 18 days.
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