SANDY, Utah -- It would be easy for a team to look at the New York Red Bulls' roster and be intimidated. With famous names like Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry, one might think that your only hope is to outscore them. Well, somebody forgot to tell Real Salt Lake, as they rode a fourth minute goal all the way to the end to earn a clean sheet against one of MLS' most formidable attacks.
"Any time you look at a lineup sheet and it says Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel, you are probably thinking to yourself, 'I hope they don't score too many goals on us,'" mused RSL head coach Jason Kreis. "So to have zero is quite nice."
Salt Lake are a team that's best known around the league for its offense, but Saturday night's game was a perfect example of what the administration and the players want people to see: that they are a team that prides itself on good defense at all 11 positions.
"Defense is 100% the reason why we're so tough," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "Everybody plays their role on defense. There's not one guy that takes a break. The shutouts are because the whole team plays defense, not because it's just the defenders and the goalkeepers."
Thanks to that commitment to defense, RSL achieved two noteworthy things tonight. The first is bringing themselves within one point of the Los Angeles Galaxy in the race for the Supporters' Shield and home field advantage through the MLS Cup playoffs.
"This was a game we needed to win to keep pace for the Supporters' Shield," said captain Kyle Beckerman. "That was our main concern."
But Kreis isn't quite ready to clear a spot on the mantle for the trophy.
"I'd still say we're very much a long shot," he said. "The number of home games we have versus away games, I think that in and of itself puts us behind the 8-ball a bit."
The other noteworthy milestone RSL achieved was pulling even with Columbus for the longest home undefeated streak in MLS history. With Saturday's victory, Real are now undefeated in 22 straight MLS matches. Their last lost at home was to Kansas City in May 2009. Their next home MLS match is two weeks from today against the Chicago Fire.
"It's awesome," said midfielder Andy Williams of being tied for the home unbeaten record. "Hopefully we can keep padding the stats for that one."
Ironically, after giving up four goals in the final 15 minutes of a CONCACAF Champions League game against Cruz Azul, the MLS champs have not given up a single goal since.
"I do think [the game against Cruz Azul] was a wake up call," said Kreis. "I think that we're past that. We take tremendous pride in our defending."
If RSL continue to take that kind of pride in their defending, it's difficult to envision them not continuing the home unbeaten streak far into the future.
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