Three words: What. A. Night.
A record crowd on a night of rain? Standing room only tickets sold? Check.
A goal from a fan favorite after less than a minute and a half? Check.
2-0 up after 10 minutes? Check.
3-0 up at halftime? Check.
A fantastic performance? A comprehensive thrashing of a very good rival without your Designated Player? Check.
Has this been a good March? CHECK.
20,500 or so fans came out last night to watch an incredible performance from Real Salt Lake against David Beckham (or as my friend calls him, "hairy legs") and the LA Galaxy. I can truly say it was probably my favorite RSL match I've ever gone to. The atmosphere was incredible in an absolutely packed Rio Tinto Stadium, and RSL played superbly right out of the gate.
More match report and player ratings after the jump...
Just a minute and fifteen seconds in, and Paulo Jr., who was lively as usual in place of Alvario Saborio, crossed it into the box. The ball missed Fabian Espindola but fell to good old Andy Williams, and Bomma made no mistake with a composed finish and a subsequently hilarious celebration. Good stuff.
Beckham hit the post with a deflected free-kick soon after, and Rimando had to be sharp to prevent an unfortunate own goal for Olave.
Then, after eight minutes, Espindola chipped a classy ball to Paulo Jr. inside the box, who headed the ball away from Saunders, who had come out and proceeded to crash into Paulo. Immediately the referee pointed to the spot and I think the cheers then were actually louder then when Morales calmly slotted the shot past Saunders, before giving a hearty bang on the goal gong.
RSL continued to dominate and play really well with some fabulous passing, and near halftime it was Morales again with a fabulous strike into the top corner after the throw-in from Wingert.
Seconds into halftime and Borchers nearly got another one for RSL, but Saunders was able to just keep the ball on the line. But after a mix-up between DeLaGarza and Franklin, Espindola claimed a fabulous assist when he squared the ball to Paulo at the back post.
LA had the better of the second half, predictably, and got their consolation on 79 minutes when Juan Pablo Angel connected with a Beckham cross after a mistake by Rimando, his only one of the night.
The entire night was just fabulous, and I have to say RSL fans are some of the very best in the MLS. One time late in the match I walked down to the very front row of Section 26 to get a better view of the players. I had a standing room only ticket, so I just hung out on the stairs and watched the game. After a couple minutes a man tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You better sit here so you don't get kicked out," motioning to an empty seat next to me. I thought it was a lovely gesture and it was a great symbol of the camaraderie you see in the stadium at gameday.
Now, player ratings:
Nick Rimando: 7
One very unusual mistake from the homeboy bumps his rating down, but other than that he was faultless, making some very good saves.
Chris Wingert: 6.5
I really didn't notice Chris and I only realized he was playing when I saw him in the second half. Still, that means he defended soundly enough and kept Hairy Legs Beckham quiet, although he didn't get up in attack as much from what I saw.
Nat Borchers: 8
Solid as ever. Not much else to say, really.
Almost scored an unlucky own goal but made some fantastic tackles and rescued RSL from a few tricky positions.
Robbie Russell: 7.5
Of all the players in the starting lineup, Robbie is the one I have the most doubts about. Just sometimes his positioning is a little off, but tonight he was good, like the rest of the team. Replaced by Beltran midway through the half, so I wonder if he picked up an injury.
Captain Fantastic. Controlled the midfield and was very savvy with his passing. As usual.
Ned Grabavoy: 7.5
Did what was asked of him: he kept the ball, made good decisions, and helped out on defense. Nothing flashy, but a real good performance from Ned.
Andy Williams: 8
Great finish after just 1:15, and his passing was great as usual. This may be the best form I've ever seen him in.
Javi is just... well, he's Javi. This could be an MVP season for him if he keeps up like this. A great penalty and a fantastic second goal will count on the scoreline, but in the run of play you always see him looking for the ball, trying and almost always succeeding to create danger, and just being Javi.
Fabian Espindola: 8
After a fantastic night against Saprissa he was at it again with some really classy passing; twice, excellent passes to his strike partner set up goals. Really improving this season by the looks of it.
Paulo Jr.: 8.5
In light of the recent mlssoccer.com article about him, if it's true that he needs soccer to survive, then it's a good thing he's really good at it! Every time he steps on the pitch he's exciting and dangerous, and tonight he got an assist, claimed a penalty, and scored a goal. I love this kid.
Now that I think about it, already this might be the best RSL team I've ever seen. Here's to an April that's just as good as March!