Roller coaster stoppage time pushes Real Salt Lake past rival Colorado, 2-0
Real Salt Lake scored twice in stoppage time, including the first goal of the season from Joao Plata, as it pulled out the 2-0 win over Colorado to claim the Rocky Mountain Cup.
SANDY — Real Salt Lake is suddenly a second-place soccer team.
That scenario seemed unlikely through the first 90 minutes Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, but RSL scored twice during a wild stoppage time that saw another goal overturned by VAR as it somehow secured the full three points in a bizarre 2-0 win over rival Colorado.
A tie — which seemed inevitable with RSL’s lackluster first half — would’ve left RSL in fifth place in the Western Conference, a result that midfielder Albert Rusnak said would’ve felt like a loss. The late goals, however, pushed the club into second place in the Western Conference with 43 points, its highest spot in the standings this late in the season since 2014.
“We’re in second, but we’re probably one or two losses and we could be in seventh, that’s how tight the table is, especially in our conference,” said Rusnak. “We know we’re in second, but we know the playoffs aren’t clinched yet … it will be important for us to keep that going.”
The victory was the fourth in the past five games for RSL, and the timing of the win was critical as the club heads into a difficult stretch of the schedule with four straight games against teams fighting to improve their playoff seeding.
It will head into those games with “sky high confidence,” according to Rusnak, after winning an ugly game on Saturday night. As Rusnak said, good teams win ugly sometimes.
“All over the world the teams that win something or who get to the finals, they don’t always play their prettiest. They’ll have a bad game, but the importance is when you have a bad game you still get the three points, and we managed to do that,” said Rusnak.
While the first 88 minutes might’ve been ugly, the final two minutes of regulation and stoppage time was a thrill ride of emotion.
“All over the world the teams that win something or who get to the finals, they don’t always play their prettiest. They’ll have a bad game, but the importance is when you have a bad game you still get the three points, and we managed to do that.” — RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak
The chaos started in the 89th minute with Colorado’s Kei Kamara getting a red card on a dangerous play in the box. Tactically, it occurred too late in the game to change much, but it seemed to give RSL a slight mental boost to push for the winner.
The moment seemed to come a minute later when Damir Kreilach banged home what seemed like the go-ahead goal on a cross from Jefferson Savarino. The long celebration was eventually muted when the ref used VAR to determine that Savarino was in an offside position when the shot that deflected to him was first struck.
RSL didn’t hang its head despite seeing the goal waved off, knowing it still had four minutes of stoppage time to push for the winner with a man advantage.
That pressure eventually led to the winner just a couple minutes later on a Joao Plata penalty kick. Plata’s initial shot took a deflection off the arm of Colorado defender Lalas Abubakar, with the ref immediately pointing to the spot.
Plata entered the game in the 68th minute for Sam Johnson, and Rusnak said his energy helped sway the match.
Two minutes after Plata’s first goal of the season, Savarino punished a dejected Colorado defense by tapping home a Rusnak pass in traffic in the eighth minute of stoppage time.
“Kudos to us for sticking with it and coming through with a great performance, I thought we needed that tonight,” said RSL assistant coach Tyrone Marshall.
Real Salt Lake won both games against rival Colorado this year as it claimed the Rocky Mountain Cup for the 10th time in the past 12 years.
In the first 45 minutes on Saturday, for RSL’s sake it’s a good thing Colorado couldn’t hit the broad side of a warehouse. In a surprisingly poor performance from the home side, Colorado outshot RSL 15-4 in the opening half and 4-0 in shots on target.
RSL had been one of the better attacking teams in MLS over the past two months, but on Saturday for 45 minutes it never threatened Colorado keeper Tim Howard. It even had 66 percent of the possession in the opening half and still couldn’t generate anything in the attacking third.
Colorado, meanwhile, capitalized on numerous RSL miscues — including several headscratchers from Brooks Lennon — to put RSL in real danger on multiple occasions.
Strangely, it felt like Real Salt Lake was still hung up on last week’s Los Angeles FC loss. That was such a tough match tactically, with LAFC applying high pressure all over the field. Colorado trotted out with virtually the opposite approach, playing low pressure and allowing RSL to knock the ball around the back as much as it wanted.
It helped RSL pad its possession numbers, but it didn’t lead to anything meaningful.
“They made it difficult for us, they were well-organized and defend with pretty much everyone,” said Rusnak. “They had their tactics and stuck with it and worked for pretty much the whole game. They just made it difficult and it was one of those ugly games that we probably earlier on in the season we wouldn’t win.”
Real Salt returns to action next Saturday when it travels to Portland in the first of three straight critical showdowns against Western Conference foes.