SANDY, Utah — In the words of head coach Jason Kreis, it was, once again, a "shaky" start for RSL in a Champions League match.
However, their response was impressive enough to earn a 4-1 defeat of Toronto FC on Wednesday night despite them falling behind a goal early.
“Shaky is a very, very kind description of the way we started the first 15 minutes, but then to have a response the way that we did was really, really impressive from our group," Kreis said.
This time they gave up a goal just eight minutes into the match after Nat Borchers played a poor back pass to ‘keeper Nick Rimando.
But RSL turned back an uneasy opening 20 mins in which TFC controlled proceedings to score four unanswered goals. The victory moved RSL into a tie for first place alongside Mexico's Cruz Azul after three rounds of group play.
Team captain Kyle Beckerman tallied the tying goal off a header in the 21st minute, and he was singled out for praise from Kreis.
"[Beckerman] was one of a few players that was, I thought, completely engaged from the opening minute," Kreis said. "I think the right people get rewarded a lot on our team, and I was happy to see him score the goal because I thought he deserved it. From there everybody woke up.”
Beckerman not only put away the first goal for RSL, but he was also instrumental in another way.
The midfielder had a hand in gaining RSL a man advantage after he tussled with TFC's Mista just six minutes after the Spanish DP had entered the field as a substitute.
Mista was shown a straight red for the off-the ball incident with Beckerman, and that would open up the game for Real Salt Lake as they went on to score two more goals to put the game out of reach for TFC.
RSL's front line may have been the ultimate story of the match, albeit for different reasons.
Alvaro Saborío showed intensity throughout the game, often coming back to meet the ball and encouraging his teammates to put high pressure on the opponent.
He was rewarded for his efforts — and the efforts of his teammate Will Johnson, who earned a PK in the 69th minute. Saborío immediately ran to the spot and wasn’t about to give up the right to take the kick.
The resulting goal was Saborío’s fifth in Champions League play and his third from the penalty spot. It puts him in second place in tournament scoring behind Cruz Azul’s Javier Orozco, who has 10 on the campaign.
“[Saborío] has been really, really instrumental in terms of our success in this tournament so far,” Kreis said. “I think right now, I feel like he’s playing his best soccer.”
His strike partner on the night, Robbie Findley, also worked hard in the match, but he missed several chances. But while the the frustration of not converting seems to grow, Findley appears determined to help out in other ways.
His efforts paid off when he created a chance in the late stages of the match. He finished the game with an assist after he delivered a pass to his newest teammate, loanee Paulo Araujo Jr.
“I thought apart from the missed opportunities, [Findley] played a great game," Kreis said. "His assist was excellent.”
Araujo Jr. scored just six minutes into his debut, a team record for RSL.
“I was very lucky," Araujo Jr. said. "When I played my first game in Miami I scored, then I came here and scored a goal in my first game.”
One RSL player who did not have a great experience in this match was defender Robbie Russell, who received a blow to the head and came off the field looking groggy.
“He has a concussion, and it seems like it’s a pretty serious one,” said Kreis, who indicated that Russell is unlikely to be available on Saturday's league match against the Chicago Fire.