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Nedum Onuoha’s instinctive play helps Real Salt Lake halt 2-game skid in critical win over Galaxy

Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach scored second-half goals seven minutes apart in the 2-0 win

Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) watches his goal against LA Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham on a penalty kick during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Sandy, Utah.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

SANDY — Nedum Onuoha has played well over 300 professional matches in his career on multiple continents and arguably reads the game better than anyone on Real Salt Lake’s roster.

RSL coach Freddy Juarez trusts his soccer sense completely, so last week when an Onuoha dribbling run out of the back led directly to a Vancouver goal, Juarez chalked it up to simple bad luck.

The fluke clearly didn’t change how Onuoha reads the game because Wednesday night when a very similar situation presented itself, he made the same dribbling run out of the back and this time it led directly to a goal.

It proved to be the game-winning goal as well as Real Salt earned a much-need victory over the L.A. Galaxy 2-0 in front of 3,943 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The victory snapped two-game home losing streak, a streak that plummeted RSL into 11th place in the Western Conference this week.

With Wednesday’s win, it vaults back into eighth place on 17 points and is just four points out of first place in the ridiculously compact West.

“More importantly I thought the team played a well-rounded game both offensively and defensively, a great group performance,” said RSL coach Freddy Juarez.

Albert Rusnak on a penalty kick and Damir Kreilach on a one-timed finished provided the scoring seven minutes apart in the second half for Real Salt Lake, which certainly was a bit lucky as the L.A. Galaxy hit the crossbar twice in the match.

“It was a must-win game. We spoke about it the past couple of days leading up to the game, and that was the main talking point of the pregame meeting as well today. It’s all about the three points, it don’t matter if it’s a nice style of football, if it’s going to be a hard-working one and an ugly one. It didn’t really matter, the most important thing was three points and we got that,” said Rusnak.

Rusnak’s penalty started with Onuoha’s run out of the back, and reflecting back on his similar run in the Vancouver game last week Juarez said there was nothing wrong with it. The reaction from his teammates after Vancouver won the ball was the problem.

Four nights later, Onuoha didn’t lose the ball. This time he played it into space to Everton Luiz, who then played it forward to Justin Meram who narrowly beat L.A.’s keeper to the ball and was promptly tripped up to win the penalty in the 65th minute.

“Nedum recognized the space to take forward, and he had space in front of him and he took that space very well, and he played a forward ball. And whenever you play a forward ball and somebody makes a run it’s hard to defend against,” said Rusnak.

Seven minutes later, another RSL defender sprung the attack forward. Without a short option to play, Donny Toia clipped a long ball up into space for Rusnak, who tracked it down and played a ball back into the box that Kreilach powered just inside the post — the same post he put a shot narrowly wide of earlier in the second half.

“I got onto it, and it was a situation me one against one and I saw Dami open in the box, and I just tried to play a firm pass to him and let him have a good shot on goal, and he put that one away very well,” said Rusnak.

From there, RSL’s backline limited the Galaxy’s scoring chances to earned its second shutout in four games — which unfortunately bookended the back-to-back losses to Colorado and Vancouver.

RSL returns to action this Sunday with a second trip to Minnesota this month. The previous outing didn’t end well with a reserve-laden squad falling 4-0.

In the first half, collectively RSL made a point of being difficult to play against and only allowed two shots on goal in the entire first half — but one of those was the best chance for either team. In the 22nd minute, Toia misjudged a ball played across the top of the box, which allowed Perry Kitchen to spin away and get a great shot off on goal.

Just as Kitchen uncorked his shot, Justen Glad stuck his leg out, with the ball skipping off his thigh and redirecting into the crossbar.

For a team that’s conceded the first goal in seven of the past eight games, seeing the ball come off the crossbar was a welcome sight for RSL.

In the second half, Juarez encouraged his team to play more balls in behind to open up the Galaxy defense, and it ended up leading to chances and goals in the second half.