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Real Salt Lake dominates defensively, opens MLS is Back Tournament with strong win over rival Colorado

Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach provide scoring for RSL in a 2-0 win over Rocky Mountain Cup rival Rapids

SHARE Real Salt Lake dominates defensively, opens MLS is Back Tournament with strong win over rival Colorado
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Real Salt Lake beat Colorado 2-0 Sunday, July 12, 2020, in its first game in the MLS is Back Tournament.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake’s dominant defense picked up right where it left off on Sunday night in its MLS is Back Tournament opener in Orlando.

After conceding just one goal in its first two 2020 matches before the COVID-19 suspension, RSL was sharp again in the MLS restart, getting a goal in each half from Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach and shutting out rival Colorado 2-0 in the process.

“Any tournament it’s great to start with the three points with a win so we are very happy about that. Of course we want to stay humble and go step by step, and of course second game we want to get another win,” said Kreilach.

With the win, Real Salt Lake moves to the top of Group D along with Minnesota United, which scored two stoppage time goals on Sunday night to rally for the 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City.

The group leaders will meet Friday night (8:30 p.m. MT, ESPN), with the winner virtually assured of advancing to the knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament.

“I think first half we dominated with the ball, not just midfield but everywhere. We were for 90 minutes very solid defensively and that’s something we have put much work into in training in the last couple of months.” — RSL’s Albert Rusnak

Real Salt Lake has just one win in six tries against Minnesota the past three seasons, but another strong defensive performance on Sunday will give it confidence heading into the key group clash.

RSL was on the front foot most of the first half, and with a lead in the second half played a smart, tactical match to see out the victory.

“I think first half we dominated with the ball, not just midfield but everywhere. We were for 90 minutes very solid defensively and that’s something we have put much work into in training in the last couple of months,” said Rusnak.

Colorado ultimately finished the match with an 11-10 edge in shots and a 53-47 edge in possession, but it rarely threatened RSL’s strong backline.

“What we take from it is a good start, especially when you start a tournament off. You want to get a positive result just so you can get some momentum. It wasn’t pretty, there was good times and some bad times, but the best part of it is we just dealt with it as team and that was the most important part of it today,” said RSL coach Freddy Juarez.

Before Rusnak scored the opening goal in the 27th minute — his first of the season — RSL had two great chances to get on the scoreboard first.

Just six minutes into the match, Corey Baird and Kreilach teamed up for a textbook give-and-go near the top box, but Baird’s curling shot attempt rattled off the crossbar.

In the 21st minute striker Douglas Martinez — making his first start of 2020 — nearly had an opportunistic finish when a deflected cross fell straight to his feet in front of goal, but his quick shot was hit straight at Colorado keeper Clint Irwin.

The breakthrough finally came in the 27th minute on what turned out to be an awkward finish from Rusnak. His shot from about 15 yards out wasn’t hit cleanly, but it gave Irwin just enough trouble that his diving save attempt was redirected through Drew Moor’s legs and into the back of the net.

Real Salt Lake enjoyed a 57 percent edge in possession in controlling the first half.

After halftime, Colorado settled into the match and created more of the possession, but RSL’s defense stayed strong and never allowed the Rapids a clear-cut scoring chance that troubled keeper Zac MacMath.

“That’s been our thing. There’s going to be times where we have to grind it out and we have to work as a team, and we’ve got to protect our goal and endure some hard times and we did. That’s us, that’s our identity. When we have to be tough we’re going to be tough,” said Juarez.

In the 70th minute, RSL had a great chance to double its advantage but Rusnak was denied a brace as his penalty kick was saved by Irwin, who also saved Nick Besler’s rebound attempt.

Rusnak’s penalty kick attempt was the result of miscommunication at the back by two Colorado defenders, which Martinez took advantage of by beating Irwin to a back pass and was promptly tripped up in the box. Irwin was shown a yellow card, but came up with a big response.

Irwin was helpless to deny RSL’s eventually insurance goal in the 76th minute as Kreilach squared a ball just inside the post after Baird laid a perfect ball in his path along the top of the box.

Juarez took advantage of all five subs as Besler, Justin Meram, Giuseppe Rossi, Sam Johnson and Erik Holt came on for Kyle Beckerman, Rusnak, Martinez, Justen Glad and Kreilach.

Beckerman’s was the only one that appeared to be injury related, but Juarez said after the match he believes it was just the result of a leg cramp for Beckerman.