SANDY, Utah – With every home match, the legend of Rio Tinto Stadium grows larger. Real Salt Lake's 4-1 victory over Kansas City on Saturday night not only avenged their lone home loss last season, but their streak of unbeaten games on their home pitch since then is now at 18. The win is also a franchise record fifth in a row.
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But despite Saturday's score line, no one inside the team felt this was an overwhelming performance. The hallmark of this RSL team is its ability to dominate possession of the ball and dictate the tempo. They did neither against the Wizards.
“It was not a great night of soccer tonight, I don’t think, on our part,” coach Jason Kreis told reporters after the match. “It was disjointed. I don’t think we possessed the ball as well as we have on prior occasions.”
But the mark of a really good team is being able to get results, even when it's not playing its best. And RSL did just that against KC, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first half and then finally putting the game out of reach late in the game with a third goal. The final tally in stoppage time was just icing on the cake.
Another mark of a quality team is plugging in replacements where needed and not missing a beat. Real came into Saturday's game with Kyle Beckerman injured, and two players picked up injuries before the half as both Chris Wingert and Andy Williams exited with hamstring issues. But their second-half replacements, Robbie Russell and Ned Grabavoy, both scored after the break.
Beckerman’s replacement, Jean Alexandre, also acquitted himself well after Kreis publicly challenged him during the week. And the coach liked what he saw on Saturday.
“Really, really pleased with [Alexandre] tonight,” said Kreis of the Haitian midfielder. “He was in and around a lot of defensive plays for us. He looked a bit more alert than he has on prior occasions for us. And we really spent a lot of time with him this week talking and going over video. I think we benefitted from that, and he benefitted from that.”
Everything seems to be clicking for the defending champs, but Will Johnson warns the team needs to be careful of its emotions, not get too full of themselves and not look too far ahead.
“In this locker room, we have emphasized that you take it three points at a time,” Johnson said. “You can only get three points from one game, and any time that you try to get more than three points you end up getting no points.”
Still, it's hard to deny RSL are on a serious high right now, especially at home. And Johnson admits Rio Tinto Stadium has become the team's biggest ally.
“With these fantastic fans, we’ve turned this into a fortress," he said. "Nobody wants to come here and play. It’s a special place to play. This building has been really, really good to us.”