Salt Lake remains perfect at 4-0-0 after squeaking past Rocky Mountain rivals.
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SANDY, Utah -- This has got to be getting old for the Colorado Rapids.
For the fourth time in the last three matches in which these teams have faced each other, Real Salt Lake scored in the final five minutes of the match to steal points away from the Rapids. Twice last year Colorado was seconds away from victory, only to have Salt Lake equalize and walk away with a share of the spoils. And Wednesday night, Colorado was only seconds away from a road draw, only to see Real snatch all three and send the visitors home empty-handed on a controversial goal by Fabian Espindola, who appeared to be offside.
But inside the RSL camp, the players don’t see it as luck, or even coincidence, that allows them these late goals.
“It really comes down to being in their end of the field, putting pressure on them, and creating chances,” said defender Nat Borchers. “When you do that, your chances of scoring go up.”
But through the first 90 minutes, there wasn’t a whole lot of any of that. Both teams played very evenly, but the game stayed mostly in the midfield, with neither team breaking out. Colorado had all sorts of trouble getting into the final third, while Salt Lake tried over and over to get through the back line but ended up getting whistled for a whopping nine offside calls. The offside statistic was a clear indicator that Real were not clicking like they usually do.
“It wasn’t our best, no doubt about that,” mused head coach Jason Kreis. “We were always one step away from pulling some stuff off. We got ourselves stretched out a bit. We got a little bit rushed.”
But in the meantime, Salt Lake can take comfort in knowing that they carry a perfect 12 points after four matches. And just like last year’s success, their current run of form is very much due to the defense. In their four MLS matches this season, Real have surrendered only a single goal. The Rapids only managed one shot on goal, and even that shot wasn’t too dangerous.
“I don’t remember Colorado having something that was really, really dangerous tonight,” said Kreis. “So I think tonight we have to feel good about what went into things on that side of the ball.”
“The defense has played great the whole tournament,” said playmaker Javier Morales.
But on the day, nobody deserves more credit than the author of the late goal, Fabian Espindola. He showed a dogged work rate throughout the night, prompting Kreis to label him man of the match.
Espindola had a first-half goal called back due to - you guessed it - offside. But he battled back and caused problems for Colorado’s defense the rest of the match, culminating in his opportunistic goal. His efforts on the night earned him the praise of his teammates.
“I’m really happy for Fabian. He’s been amazing for us this season,” said Borchers. “He’s worked so hard, he’s created so many chances, he’s busted his hump all season. He deserves that goal.”
So while RSL can celebrate being perfect in MLS play for one night, and Espindola can celebrate his first goal of the 2011 campaign, their coach had a parting shot for the team before taking off. Talking about the huge Champion’s League Final match next week against, Monterrey, Kreis said “we’re going to have to be better than that next week for sure.”
For the latest insider info on all things RSL, follow Jeremy on Twitter @RSL_Jeremy
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