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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Royal gut check

By Tony Pizza

It may be decades before Real Salt Lake gets a win like the one it earned on Saturday night.

In a game deemed by most to be a sure loss, RSL got its biggest gut-check of the year, miraculously beating FC Dallas 3-2 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The game started with RSL at a slight disadvantage, as it would be without the services of the league’s top goal scorer, Jeff Cunningham. FC Dallas did not make matters much easier in the fourth minute when Ronnie O’Brien, Abe Thompson and Carlos Ruiz put together a beautiful combination of touches to take an early 1-0 lead.

FC Dallas sent a gorgeous ball into the middle of the RSL box. O’Brien flicked the ball to Thompson at the top of the 18-yard box. Thompson sucked two RSL defenders, which allowed a reversing O’Brien to slip behind the RSL defense down the box. Thompson found O’Brien and the FC Dallas captain rifled a cross through the box that narrowly missed one sliding Dallas player before the ball found Carlos Ruiz’s foot on the far post.

Down 1-0, RSL did not hang its head or panic. Nine minutes later, Andy Williams leveled the score at 1-1 on one of the finest goals in MLS this season. Jason Kreis started the attack when he ripped a shot from just outside the box. Keeper Dario Sala deflected Kries’ shot, but Williams was able to gather up the rebound at the top of the box. With his back to the goal, Williams turned the ball as he quickly spun to his right. Williams played the ball to his outside left foot and saw that Sala was off his line. Williams then clipped a perfect bending chip shot over Sala’s outstretched arms and into the top right shelf.

With the intensity and creativity on both sides of the ball, it was clear that this match had the makings of one of the most competitive in MLS this season. In the 33rd minute, RSL midfielder Carey Talley changed the entire game. Talley made a dangerous midfield tackle from behind on FC Dallas captain Ronnie O’Brien. In accordance with MLS rules, Talley was issued a red card. Talley stormed off the field in a flood of expletives, leaving RSL down a man for the remainder of the game.

RSL staved off the subsequent flurry of Dallas attacks and RSL keeper Scott Garlick made a handful of athletic saves that yielded no rebounds in attempt to maintain the 1-1 score. But RSL was not able to hold on long enough, as FC Dallas scored with one minute to go in first-half stoppage time.

Thompson got his second assist of the night when he received a pass at the 25-yard line. Thompson sent a pass through the left side of the box to Ruiz, who beat an RSL defender and then slipped a left-footed shot past RSL keeper Scott Garlick on the near post.

Knowing that RSL needed a win to stay in the playoff hunt, head coach John Ellinger took some chances in the second half. Sequiera replaced defender Kevin Novak, which gave RSL a more solid midfield/defender combo in the second half. The move also allowed the leaders of the shorthanded RSL squad to push another forward up in hopes of getting the equalizer.

“I told our leaders-Jason (Kries), Scott (Garlick), Chris (Klein), Andy (Williams) and Eddie (Pope)-to find a way to step up and make it happen in a must-win game, to put the bizarre call behind us,” Ellinger said at halftime.

The risky move paid off with a bit of trickery when RSL caught FC Dallas napping in the 62nd minute. Atiba Harris drew a foul just outside and to the right of FC Dallas’ penalty box. With play halted, Klein strolled behind the Dallas defense to pick up the loose ball. He tossed the ball back to Williams for the direct free kick. Instead of taking a shot, Williams did a quick start as he sent the pass onto Klein, who had remained behind the Dallas defense when he picked up the ball. Klein was virtually unguarded as took the ball in from 5 yards off the end line. He squared up a shot and sent one under the diving legs of Sala-and into the far side portion of the goal-tying the game at two goals apiece.

Knowing that FC Dallas still had the one-man advantage, RSL stayed back and waited for an opportunity to counter an FC Dallas attack. Dallas seemed to apathetically probe the RSL defense, but in turn gave up a few precious setpieces to RSL.

RSL, however, knew what was on the line. In the 72nd minute, the team finally got the counter attack opportunity it had patiently been waiting for.

Klein took a loose ball in the middle of RSL’s attacking third. Klein found a streaking Harris down the right side of the field. He ran down Klein’s pass, and sent a charged knuckling ball through the FC Dallas box. Harris’ cross split two defenders, and out of nowhere, Kreis, the MLS’s all-time leading goal scorer, sifted his way though two Dallas defenders and redirected Harris’ pass into the back of the net for his 107th career MLS goal.

RSL’s effort to gain the lead was encapsulated on the face of Kreis as he folded his body over in front of the goal before sitting up in time to be mobbed by Klein and Harris.

The minutes could not melt off the clock fast enough for RSL. With the combination of a compact defense that made some clutch challenges and some exceptional saves from Garlick, RSL was able to run the rest of the clock out and preserve a much needed win to keep the team in the playoff hunt.

“FC Dallas has arguably been one of the best teams in the league. We outworked them in the second half,-just an incredible team effort. One of the best I’ve seen this year,” Garlick said.

“We came from behind and beat them a man down. We found a way to beat them at our home, now next week we’ll look to find a way to beat them in Dallas,” Ellinger said.

With a win for RSL as special as this, it is a pleasant contrast when juxtaposed with the way RSL started out the season.

“From April until now we’ve come so far, emotionally it is hard to describe,” Ellinger said. “For a team that only had five wins and five ties all of last year to be playing games that matter this deep into September, coming from behind a man down to get two shorthanded goals against the best team in the West, and for us to be pushing for the playoffs-what can you say? Psychologically we have accomplished a lot, coming together over the course of the year.”

By earning three points on Saturday night, RSL now has 36 points in the standings and trails Chivas and Colorado by three points.

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