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Resounding win vaults Real Salt Lake into fourth in West, highest position all year

RSL has spent the summer methodically reinventing itself, and the upward trend continued yet again on Wednesday night.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (10) battles with Real Salt Lake midfielder Everton Luiz (25) for the ball as RSL and Seattle Sounders play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Utah on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019.
Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (10) battles with Real Salt Lake midfielder Everton Luiz (25) for the ball as RSL and Seattle Sounders play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019.
Scott G Winterton

SANDY — Real Salt Lake has spent the summer methodically reinventing itself, and the upward trend continued yet again on Wednesday night.

Against a Seattle team content to bunker defensively virtually the entire first half, RSL eventually broke down the five-man backline in the first half and then bagged two more insurance goals in the second half on its way to resounding 3-0 win.

With its third straight victory in front of 17,825 fans, RSL vaulted into fourth place in the Western Conference standings — its highest spot in the standings all season.

RSL has surged to a 6-1-3 record since returning from the CONCACAF Gold Cup break, a stretch in which it has conceded just five goals in 10 matches.

“I thought tonight very good from the boys. Having scored three goals at home against a very good opponent in Seattle, it shows the true testament to what we’ve been doing over the past three weeks,” said RSL assistant coach Tyrone Marshall.

Sam Johnson opened the scoring with a goal in his first start in six weeks, with Albert Rusnak and Corey Baird providing the punctuation goals in the second half as they earned interim head coach Freddy Juarez his first official victory at the helm for RSL.

Marshall said getting the win for Juarez was fantastic, but the mentality wasn’t any different from the previous three games when RSL earned results with Juarez leading the way while former coach Mike Petke was suspended before his firing this past weekend.

“The group mentality has been the same and we just want to make sure we go out and we play good football. The guys have been embracing it and running with it and so we’re just going to continue and keep the momentum,” said Marshall.

The win sets up a big match on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium against league-leading Los Angeles FC — which sits an incredible 15 points higher in the standings.

Marshall said getting goals from a variety of players on Wednesday, but also the past month, is a great sign with only nine matches left in the MLS regular season.

“It shows that everyone is contributing and working and they’re looking for each other, and that’s the key, everyone is looking for each other,” Marshall said. “And when you have a team that’s unselfish, man, there’s a good potential you’re going to see a lot more goals from a lot more people.”

In Johnson’s first start since injuring his quad muscle on July 4, Johnson wasted little time getting back to his scoring ways by capitalizing on a Seattle giveaway to bury the game’s opening goal in the 25th minute.

The goal was Johnson’s team-leading ninth of the season, and the third straight game he’s scored when starting.

Seattle midfielder Jordy Delem helped make it possible. With Seattle pushed up high after a corner kick, Delem kicked his through ball attempt straight to Aaron Herrera, who quickly chipped it upfield into Johnson’s path.

The RSL striker took a couple touches toward the box, cut it back toward the middle of the field and uncorked a shot that ironically enough deflected off Delem and into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Down a goal at the half, Seattle’s urgency ramped up in the second half. Nothing came of the extra possession, though, as it finished with zero shots on goal — even though a couple of dangerous opportunities were blocked by defenders before they had a chance to threaten keeper Nick Rimando.

Rusnak doubled the lead in the 71st minute with a clinical finish from the top of the box after a great dribbling run by Corey Baird and then a simple lay-off pass from Damir Kreilach.

In the 87th minute, Kreilach delivered another key pass, knocking the ball way up field into space for Baird, who dribbled into the box head of Seattle’s defenders and slipped the ball past keeper Stefan Frei for his third goal in two matches.

RSL hopes to build on the momentum and make a statement against LAFC on Saturday, a team it has lost to twice already this year. LAFC beat visiting Real Salt Lake 2-1 in the fourth game of the season back, and then back in June LAFC prevailed at the RioT in a U.S. Open Cup match.