In arguably the most important game in franchise history for Real Salt Lake, a cold but loud 14,000+ crowd watched a simply fantastic performance from RSL, who registered a 4-1 win over the Columbus Crew.
So where to start? I guess I'll start with the match itself. It was not Raushawn McKenzie who replaced Borchers in defense but instead Chris Schuler, a fact that surprised me because I thought Schuler was still injured. Evidently he's not, as he turned in a great performance alongside Jamison in defense. Another player coming into the starting lineup, Andy Williams, impacted the match even more.
After Will Johnson had hit the post with a fantastic shot from distance, probably the best shot I've ever seen at a soccer game considering from our seats we could see its bend perfectly, it was "Bomma" whose perfect pass found Morales, and his dinked through ball was finished lethally by our new designated player, Alvaro Saborio. Then it was Williams again with a fantastic through ball to Morales, who this time finished it on his own, a slow roller past Ray Burse. Twice, the stadium absolutely erupted and RSL were up 2-0 at the break.
More including, player ratings and man of the match after the jump...
But things got a bit nervy minutes after Andres Mendoza, who according to Dunny will be named the Crew's designated player sometime this week, got a lucky break but finished off his chance with a great volley, just fantastic technique. Rio Tinto got a quiet as I can remember after that, seeing as the Crew only needed a goal to advance. But credit to the players and the fans, they both rallied and got RSL back into the game. There was one fantastic moment where the chant "Ole, ole ole ole, Real Salt Lake!" was being sung by practically everybody in the stadium in unison. It gave me chills.
Anyways, RSL continued to attack, with Espindola finding Saborio to force a good save from Burse, before off the ensuing corner, young Schuler saw his flying header bang off the crossbar. But the Crew would run out of luck as substitute Paulo Jr., who came on for Sabo and continued to impress, held up the ball before finding Morales, who took a touch and fired past Burse. Two of my key players from the preview, Morales and Mendoza, had come good.
And then, in stoppage time, Andy Williams hit a fantastic free-kick past Burse with the last kick of the game. The moment the ball left his foot, everybody in the stadium knew it was in, and it was a fitting end to a fantastic performance for Williams individually, and RSL as a whole.
On to the semis, where we'll host the first leg on March 15th against either Olimpia or Saprissa, who play the second leg of their two leg tie (Saprissa won the first game 1-0) later tonight in Honduras. You can catch that one at 6:00 pm MT on Galavision.
Didn't have too much to do but was solid whenever called upon, and was needed a couple times to claim crosses with flying leaps... very NFL-like.
With a full head of hair, I couldn't tell him apart from the man also playing the left flank, Will Johnson. Nonetheless registered a solid performance.
Chris Schuler: 8
Woo! Go Chris! Looked assured in central defense alongside Olave and made several important interceptions, while hitting the bar with a great header at the other end. It's great to know that we have him to call upon if Olave or Nat need a rest.
Provided a steady hand in defense, and completely played Cunningham out of the game. I think Dunny summed it up best: "Beast."
Robbie Russell: 6.5
Maybe RSL's worst player, had a couple of poor giveaways in at right-back, but usually recovered well. In fact, it says more about RSL's performance than Russell's if he was our worst player.
Was not too involved on the attack but was solid as ever and was a real leader on the pitch.
Will Johnson: 8
Great performance from Will. Worked his ass off and was a real nuisance to the Crew all night, and hit the post with a simply brilliant effort from range.
Andy Williams: 8.5
Woo! Andy! Rolled back the years with a great, great performance. And his free-kick was sublime, although his classy, slightly cheeky celebration might have been even better.
Javier Morales: 8.5
Woo! Javi! A great performance as playmaker, he took the game by the scruff of the neck and showed why he's so highly revered around these parts.
Fabian Espindola: 7.5
A decent performance, better than his game last week. Always looked dangerous on whichever flank he chose to attack, but didn't quite have that cutting edge that he sometimes has. Still, a pretty good day for Fabi all things considered.
Alvaro Saborio: 8
Scored a clinical first goal and was dangerous all night. RSL will be delighted to have kept him.
Paulo Jr: 7.5
Came on for Sabo and showed why he's such a promising young talent with some great, exciting soccer. Intelligent play led to him assisting on Javi's second goal, and the image of the two Argentines celebrating was one to remember.
Came on late and embarked on a rare run, and a good one too, beating a couple players before firing well wide. Afterwards you could see his smile all the way from the upper deck.
Ned Grabavoy: N/A
No impact after coming on late.
Man of the Match:
Morales/Williams: I really, really can't choose. Morales had two goals and an assist, Williams had two great assists and the best goal of the night. Whoever I chose would be deserving, but it would also be unfair on the loser, so this is a joint award for two top quality performances.
Well that's it. Can't wait for the semis. Go RSL!