You knew it was going to be an interesting night at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, as both Real Salt Lake and D.C.United needed to pick up a win. The night got more interesting as thunderstorms rolled by the stadium just minutes after the match got started (I was surprised they started on time at all) and then after about an hour and a half delay the match got back under way. It was nice to see that probably 80% of the fans stuck out the delay and remained until the final minutes of the match.
On the pitch the action was about as even as I have seen in a RSL match this year as both sides were clearly going for the win from the opening whistle until the final one. Both sides ended up taking 14 shots and both ended up with 4 on goal, it was a 49th minute header by Will Johnson that was the only goal counted of the match. RSL held an advantage in possession but both teams had a lot of moments where built momentum and created opportunities, it was a fun match to watch. I was a bit frustrated that while the official called very little in the first half and let the teams play, the second half ended up with a lot more calls and a lot of cards in what was a fairly inconsistent effort but that cut both ways as a number of strange calls were made and missed for both sides.
While Will Johnson's goal got him the official man of the match honors, I think my vote might have had to go to Nick Rimando who was simply spectacular again tonight as RSL picked up another clean sheet, his 97th in his MLS career. While there were any number of miscues on defense both in part to RSL mistakes and the fact that DC United is a very good attacking side, the clean sheet was maintained for the 11th time this season. I thought that both Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert did a nice job of getting forward and supporting the attacking side as well as in their normal defensive roles. Nat Borchers and Kwame Watson-Siriboe had good nights and I thought for a moment on both a couple of his headers and on a goal called back for a handball that Kwame was really starting to become a set piece threat as well.
more thoughts after the jump:
I have been a bit critical of our midfield over the last couple of months, but I can say that last night I was impressed with their work on both sides of the ball and with the overall energy that they played with. Javier Morales appeared to have found whatever had been missing and for 90 minutes was a factor int he match, when he wasn't being hacked at by the DC United defenders. Kyle Beckerman was able to do what he does best, cause a bit of havoc for DC's attack and provide an option for RSL when they needed someone to provide passing options. Ned Grabavoy actually took a couple shots, something I think he should be doing more of, but he was also very good with his passing and was one of the first guys back on the defensive side of the ball to help counter the DC United attacks. Will Johnson always is one of the hardest workers on the pitch, usually a bit more defensive minded but always with the ability to be a game changer for RSL, Saturday night was no different but perhaps it was playing against his fellow CMNT teammate Dwayne De Rosario that gave Will a little extra spark. A diving header by Johnson was the difference on the scoreboard, and it marks his 3rd goal of the season for RSL.
Up top we got a full dose of Alvaro Saborio who showed the work rate and drive that fans want to see from him and from his scrappy battles on set pieces to the solid runs made all night he was a dangerous player that DC United had to account for at all times. Paulo Jr. got the start and his energy and runs were a bright spot in both halves as he is starting to show more and more the sparks of speed and skill that have keep RSL fans waiting for him to break out and establish himself as a real force on offense. Coming off the bench in the second half, Fabian Espindola quickly got to work doing what he does so well, making great runs, chasing down balls that others consider a lost cause and creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates.
While the score ended 1-0 it really was a very solid effort by RSL on a night where the conditions played a disruptive role from what most fans and players probably expected. It would be hard for anyone to have watched the match on Saturday and not been entertained. It also keeps RSL ahead of the LA Galaxy who picked up a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Seattle who will play on Sunday. Next up for RSL will be a difficult road match on Thursday at Houston a place they have never gotten a result and it will be all the more difficult this time as several RSL players will be called up by their national teams for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
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