SANDY, Utah — Whenever the LA Galaxy come to Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake and their fans seem particularly energized. Saturday night’s 4-1 win was no exception, as RSL turned in an emphatic performance right from the opening whistle.
Two goals in the first 10 minutes sent the home side on their way, and it was 3-0 before the halftime break. The first-half beating was as thorough as it was entertaining.
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“Forty-five minutes of probably the best soccer I’ve seen in front of this stadium [from] this team,” head coach Jason Kreis said of the first half. “It was sheer delight to watch that.”
Attacking midfielder Javier Morales was the catalyst for the victory, notching two goals, including one from the spot in the 10th minute and a stunning rocket from outside the box in the 41st. Both ignited the 20,507 fans who filled Rio Tinto despite the low temperatures.
“We feel the crowd all the time,” Morales said. “I think they are amazing. For me, we have the best crowd in the league."
“Tonight the crowd before the game was so, so loud before the kickoff,” Kreis said. “I thought it was just a magical moment—the beginning of the game for us—I just knew the guys were going to be way into it.”
There were doubts before the game, though, as RSL were missing several players, including striker Alvaro Saborio and midfielders Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez, who were all away on international duty.
[inline_node:331975]The absences gave others a good opportunity to make their cases. Brazilian striker Paulo Jr., in particular, made his very well.
The 22-year-old’s first start in league play included setting up RSL’s first goal in the second minute, drawing a penalty in the ninth minute that Morales converted, and getting on the score sheet himself in the 69th minute with a clean, classy finish off a pass from Fabian Espindola.
“He was good, really, really good, when we had the ball tonight in the first half,” Kreis said of Paulo Jr. “I thought he was dangerous every time he touched [the ball], and every time he was around it. Obviously, he made a lot happen with the assist on the first goal, the penalty on the second goal, and then scoring on the [fourth goal].”
Although Saborío will remain a regular starter up top, Paulo Jr.’s performance on Saturday will put pressure on all of RSL’s attackers.
“There’s no doubt,” said Kreis. “The very next game, imagine: I’ve got to choose now between Sabo, who’s coming back; Fabián, who’s doing so many wonderful things for us; and Paulo, who has an assist, a goal and sets up a penalty.
Such choices are a luxury, no doubt. But for Kreis, it doesn’t matter who’s on the field provided they have the right mindframe.
“We’ll try to continue to get everyone to buy in that this is about the team,” he said.