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3 takeaways from RSL’s return to winning form against Austin FC

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Austin FC midfielder Tomas Pochettino (7) tries to disrupt Real Salt Lake forward Bobby Wood (7) as he pushes the ball toward the goal as Real Salt Lake and Austin FC play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. RSL won 1-0.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Returning home to Rio Tinto Stadium after a three game road stretch that saw it muster only a single point, Real Salt Lake took on Austin FC Saturday night in a match that captain Albert Rusnak labeled as a “must win” following his team’s defeat to Portland a week ago.

Rusnak and company earned the win they coveted so much, narrowly beating Austin 1-0. Bobby Wood scored the game’s lone goal on a header in the first half assisted by Jonathan Menéndez.

RSL’s hopes to hang on to the lead it created were boosted early in the second half when Austin defender Julio Cascante was shown red for a challenge on Justin Meram, leaving the team with only 10 men for almost the entire the second half. Chances were still created by Austin, who delivered an impressive effort despite being a man short, but The Claret and Cobalt hung on to sweat out the three points at home.

The win moved RSL into sixth place in the Western Conference with 24 points in 18 games played. 

Here are three takeaways from the win:

Storybook moment for Wood

After Wood and Menéndez made the connection for the goal — his second goal as an RSL player —the 28-year-old striker ran over to celebrate with his family who was on the sidelines, visiting Rio Tinto for the first time. Wood leaned over and kissed his young daughter as part of the celebration.

The result was a photo that was well-received and shared by plenty of RSL faithful.

Wood said that the surreal moment created a lasting memory.

“It was amazing,” Wood said. “It’s just a special moment for me and I won’t ever forget it. It’s something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

Obvious goal scoring opportunity denied

Just two minutes into the second half, Meram showed impressive skill to maneuver around Cascante, who reached out his arms and pulled Meram back, preventing the play from developing further.

Initially referee David Gantar showed a yellow card to Cascante, setting up a free kick just outside the 18-yard box, but VAR official Victor Rivas advised Gantar to review the play. Upon watching the play, Gantar determined that Cascante denied an obvious goal scoring opportunity and showed the defender a straight red card.

The decision appeared as though it could’ve gone either way, but it was certainly a tough pill for Austin FC to swallow, although RSL head coach Freddy Juarez said that his team going up a man may have made his players a little too anxious over the final 45 minutes.

“In the second half we were just too anxious,” Juarez said. “They went a man down and we just wanted that second (goal) so bad that we stopped a little bit of our intelligence. We lost too much control of the second half.”

Austin makes life hard

To the credit of Austin FC, the club made things incredibly difficult for Real Salt Lake as it battled non-stop, controlling possession while searching for the equalizer. In fact, it was Austin that looked to be the more threatening team for long stretches of the second half, despite being a man down. 

Although it came away with zero points for its efforts, Austin undoubtedly came away from the game with a lot of positive takeaways and left a little more to be desired for an RSL squad that felt they should’ve put the game away in easier fashion.

“Obviously we could’ve managed (the second half) a little bit better,” RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath said, while still emphasizing that the team did what it ultimately set out to do. “The whole week we spoke about how no matter what we needed to get three points. … That was our goal.”