SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake accomplished what they expected to on Saturday night: They beat the New York Red Bulls at home 1-0 with an early goal by Fabian Espindola. Mission accomplished.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
But the ramifications of the victory may be more far-reaching than that. First, RSL tied the all-time mark of 22 consecutive unbeaten games at home. With a match at Rio Tinto Stadium against Chicago in two weeks, they could take sole ownership of the record.
“In our next match, we’ll be gang-busters going to break the record,” said coach Jason Kreis. “It is important to us – we take a lot of pride in this building.”
Secondly, the three points gained Saturday night, combined with a draw by the LA Galaxy, puts RSL just one back of LA and the Columbus Crew in the race for the Supporters’ Shield. That's something that has been on RSL's target list since the beginning of the season but looked unlikely after the early hot start the Galaxy enjoyed.
Finally, the victory against the Red Bulls – another win against a high-profile opponent – helps to further plant Real Salt Lake among the league elite, another goal the team arduously set out to reach after many skeptics dismissed their 2009 run and ultimate MLS Cup championship.
For the sixth game out of 23 on the season, RSL put a goal on the scoreboard in the opening 15 minutes. They played fluid soccer in the opening half, once again enjoying the better of possession on the night as the midfield combination of Andy Williams and Javier Morales showed some wonderful creativity, initiating some sparkling chances even though the team was only able to notch one tally for the game.
Although RSL erased New York from the pitch in the first half, the home team allowed the visitors to come back on in the second half, when the Red Bulls were able to create more opportunities as they pushed the game and tried to widen the field of play by attacking from different angles.
RSL ultimately did well in fighting off New York’s challenges, but they did allow Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel to trouble their goal, requiring some frantic last minute saves from the defense and ‘keeper Nick Rimando.
But one player that RSL managed to hold down was New York's star striker Thierry Henry, who didn’t factor into the game in a prominent way.
“Anytime you look on the lineup sheet and it says Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel, I think you are thinking to yourself, ‘I hope they don’t score too many goals on us,’” said Kries, who was pleased with his team’s superb defensive effort.
“So to [allow] zero is quite nice. We play really nice soccer – it’s fun to watch – but what a lot of people don’t know is how much pride we take in our defending.”
Said Rimando: “I just think we were in good positions tonight. The midfield played a big role in that. [Henry] likes to come back a lot. There’s a lot of great communication between our defenders and our midfielders, [and] he couldn’t get the ball as much as he wanted to.
“When he had the ball we were alert and ready. So we did our homework, obviously.”
Though Real’s overall performance in the second half wasn’t exactly what Kreis would have liked it to be, the manager didn’t complain about the victory.
“I’m not thrilled with the way that we finished the match," he said, "but I’m extremely thrilled with the result."
For the defending champs, the accomplishments may keep coming.