Real Salt Lake has been on a bit of a scoring binge, averaging more than two goals per game this season. But Saturday night, RSL put on a defensive clinic. Its shape was terrific, especially along the backline, and between Nick Rimando and Aaron Maund you could call the entire defense the collective Wall of the Wasatch.
But Colorado gave as good as it got, showing why it's one of the most talked about defensive units in Major League Soccer right now. Joao Plata earned his fourth goal on a gaffe by Colorado defender Axel Sjoberg, who mis-hit a clearing ball to drop behind the ’keeper and into the path of Plata who guided the ball home for RSL's lone but game-winning goal.
Here are the player report cards:
Nick Rimando (GK), 7, Rimando had five saves on some excellent opportunities by Colorado. He was fearless and athletic, and as always, exceptional at controlling the box when crosses made their way inside. Distribution was not his shiniest Saturday.
Chris Wingert (DEF), 7, continues to start at left back in place of the more athletic Demar Phillips due to the maturity and field smarts he brings to a backline working to bring along two fairly young central defenders.
Justen Glad (DEF), 7, showed Saturday night that his maturity and ability that was on display last week against Kansas City is for real. His communication with Aaron Maund is very good already, and he seems to connect well with Sunny and Kyle Beckerman in front of him. One noticeable difference is becoming clear. When Glad is in the game, the backline is much more disciplined. RSL earned seven offside calls last week against Kansas City and six Saturday against Colorado.
Aaron Maund (DEF), 9, has cemented himself as RSL's left center back. Over the past six months of play, Maund has matured and develped the level of leadership and confidence elite center backs must have in Major League Soccer. Saturday was no exception. He's exceptional at maintaining his line, thanks in large part to Jeff Cassar's increased focus in that area, but also thanks to minutes on the field. His diving header save in the 43rd minute was not only a highlight on the night, but of his career. Man of the Match.
Tony Beltran (DEF), 8, was very active up the line playing a key role developing RSL's wide game where most of the attacking opportunities came from. Beltran showed off his speed and foot skills throughout the night as he partnered with Burrito Martinez and Luke Mulholland to develop plays along the top of the 18. His defending in RSL's box continues to be as good as it gets in MLS.
Sunday Stephen (MID), 8, is a fun combination of destroyer and skill. He's fast, fearless and disciplined despite the fire that seems to drive him. He has become a potent combination alongside Kyle Beckerman, showing that this RSL roster is very well suited to the 4-3-3 indeed.
Luke Mulholland (MID), 7, got his second start of the season in place of a still injured Javier Morales. Mulholland brings a different look to the number 10 position. He's disruptive defensively, and he's much more of a target player for Plata and Martinez who end up pulling the strings. Saturday, Mulholland proved to be extremely valuable as Colorado struggled to get out of its third more than it used to, thanks in part to Mulholland, and because he is an excellent one-touch passer, which was a big part of his role.
Kyle Beckerman (MID), 7, played his brand of defensive destruction Saturday night doing well to keep Marco Pappa stymied much of the night as he tried to pull the strings going into the 18-yard box. Beckerman was a key to RSL's shutout despite a little too much eagerness in the waning minutes of the game to play a bit higher than necessary with a 1-0 lead.
Juan Manuel Martinez (FWD), 7, is a brand of creative rarely seen in Major League Soccer. Sometimes that requires a bit of patience on the part of players and fans. Saturday night was no exception, for every jaw-dropping skill-check, there are a half dozen that don't work. But when they do, look out. However, it was a well-placed simple ball over the top in the 72nd minute that catalyzed RSL's lone game-winning goal.
Yura Movsysian (FWD), 7, didn't want to be left of the defend-a-rama. Yes, he played a few balls along into the box, and took on a defender or two of his own, but Movsysian was at his best Saturday when disrupting Colorado in its own third.
Joao Plata (FWD), 8, may not have gotten the looks he's become accustomed to this season, but he was instrumental in creating the occasional offensive opportunity on a night when RSL seemed more intent on protecting the ball than scoring it. In fact, it was his 72nd minute charge against two central defenders and an onrushing ’keeper, Zack MacMath, when Colorado defender Axel Sjoberg mis-hit a clearing ball to drop behind MacMath and into the path of Plata, who guided the ball home for RSL's lone goal.
Javier Morales (SUB, 64', MID), 8, came on for Luke Mulholland and immediately nutmegged a Colorado defender to put an attacking ball right at Joao Plata's feet atop the 18-yard box. He was also excellent defensively as RSL closed out the game.
Demar Phillips (SUB, 74', DEF), 7, entered the game for Chris Wingert and did well to pick up the pace of the game right where Wingert left off.
John Stertzer (SUB, 84', MID), 6, came on for Sunny after a hard challenge left the defensive midfielder hobbled. He struggled a little to catch up the game speed and while he defended well, the occasional passes were not his best.
Chris Higbee is a regular contributor to DeseretNews.com.