As the MLS season begins to draw to a close, Real Salt Lake continued its fight to book a playoff spot in a Wednesday night showdown with an FC Dallas squad it had only beaten once on the road in the entire history of the club.
Thanks to a brilliant finish in the 90th minute from Albert Rusnák, the Claret and Cobalt picked up their second ever win in Frisco, Texas, with a 2-1 result and secured three points that will be exceptionally crucial as the Western Conference standings start to solidify. Trailing 1-0 at halftime after a goal from FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, both RSL goals came in the game’s final 13 minutes.
Damir Kreilach notched the game’s other goal in the 80th minute, giving the Croatian 15 goals this season.
With the victory, RSL brought its point total to 45 for the season and moved just above the playoff line into seventh place thanks to a goal-differential advantage over Vancouver.
Not only did the win aid RSL’s positioning in the standings, but interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni said it also gave the team some much needed form-boosting momentum heading into their final three games.
“In this league it’s not just about how you get into the playoffs, but the form you have going into the playoffs,” Mastroeni said. “I think if we’re fortunate enough to find our way into the playoffs, whoever we play is going to come against a team that’s full of belief in themselves.”
RSL will take the pitch again this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium for a matinee contest with San Jose.
Meram subs on ready to play
After watching the first 74 minutes from the sidelines, Justin Meram came on for RSL and was a game-changer. In just under 20 minutes of play, the senior forward assisted on both the equalizing and game-winning goals and saw a shot nearly go in, but ultimately banged it off the crossbar.
Mastroeni said that the brilliant 20 minutes from Meram showed the kind of work he’s put in while also showing how he embraced his role in a game where he didn’t get the start.
“Subs make differences all around the world in every league, and (as a sub) you’ve got to be ready to make a difference,” Meram said. “I just tried to come in and be myself. I had a shot that hit the crossbar ... and that kind of fueled me and gave me a little bit of confidence and I just tried to put the ball in good places.”
Finally, a second-half comeback
Before Wednesday’s game, Real Salt Lake was 0-6 in games that it trailed at halftime, so it was understandably unnerving that the Claret and Cobalt went into the intermission down a goal to nil. But when the team needed it most this season, they pulled off the comeback to come away with the full three points.
Mastroeni said that the way RSL asserted itself and created more width in attack were some of the reasons it found success in the second half after it struggled to put forth quality attacking play in the opening 45 minutes.
“In the first half, what might look slow was the quality of our service into the box and then we gave up the soft goal towards the end of the half,” Mastroeni said. “But (trailing) allowed us to get out on top of them and really open them up with our attacking structure.”
The captain delivers
Much had been said about Rusnák’s form at the beginning of the season when the midfielder struggled to deliver the type of impactful performances that were expected from the RSL faithful.
But at a time when the club needed it the most, Rusnák delivered a world-class finish that gave RSL an additional two points at an extremely critical point of the season.
GUYS GUYS GUYS WE SCORED AND THEN WON pic.twitter.com/YrQBMAHkTe— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) October 28, 2021
Many highlight-worthy goals have been delivered by RSL players this season, and though there’s still three games to play, it’s Rusnák’s goal Wednesday night that may go down as the most important of them all.