SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake opened the first of three Rocky Mountain Cup matches in 2012 with a 2-0 victory on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Colorado Rapids. Strikers Fabián Espíndola – who tied RSL’s all-time scoring record with his controversial strike – and Álvaro Saborío each rippled the back of the net en route to the win.
With the result, RSL are the second MLS side behind Sporting Kansas City to reach the 15-point plateau, and they sit atop the Western Conference with a 5-1-0 record through six games. Colorado remains on nine points with 3-2-0 record, losing their second game with head coach Oscar Pareja in charge.
Pareja fielded an defensive-minded lineup with Drew Moor pushed up into the midfield and Tyrone Marshall deputizing for him in the center of defense, while RSL manager Jason Kreis replaced Javier Morales’ creative presence with youthful midfielders Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez.
Real Salt Lake grabbed the lead just 20 minutes into the game after defender Tony Beltran picked out Saborio with a left-footed ball behind the Rapids backline. Saborío timed his run to perfection, ghosted in behind the defense, chested the ball down and easily poked it past Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens.
Although Saborío got the goal, Espíndola assumed the primary creative roll in the first half for RSL, dropping deep on numerous occasions to get on the ball. Meanwhile, Colorado spread the field and tried to open up space for players like Omar Cummings to take advantage of their pace. RSL’s tactics paid the most dividends, however, as the home side registered nine shots in the first half, although Pickens was able to keep the net clear apart from Saborío’s strike.
While RSL continued to create chances in the second period, Colorado rarely tested Nick Rimando as the possession-based game that had propelled them to three wins in their first four games failed to equate to scoring opportunities. The Rapids registered just one shot on goal during the match.
In the 57th minute, Espíndola scored RSL’s second to ice the match, but the goal arrived with an element of controversy. The Argentine appeared to bring down Gil’s pass with his left arm just outside of the area, but play wasn’t stopped and somehow Espíndola was able to poke the ball away from two onrushing defenders and past Pickens. It was Espíndola’s third of the season, and put him at 29 career goals for RSL, tying him with Robbie Findley for the club record.
Colorado switched into a more aggressive formation with three at the back after falling behind by two, and the tactic nearly pulled the visitors back into the game. Moor narrowly missed closing the gap when he put a header just off frame with Rimando caught well off his line in the 71st minute.
Then a few minutes later, midfielder Martín Rivero, making his second start for the Rapids, clanked a shot off the crossbar from a free kick from 25 yards out. But it was not the Rapids night, and Salt Lake claimed the first meeting between the Rocky Mountain Rivals in 2012.
RSL visit red-hot Sporting Kansas City on April 14. Meanwhile, the Rapids head to Seattle that same day hoping to avoid losing back-to-back matches for the first time this season.