RSL: Historic night at Rice-Eccles

By By Chris Kamrani

By Chris Kamrani

When used to describe a Real Salt Lake performance, “history” is a term that often carries negative connotations. On Saturday night though, it was definitely a positive.

RSL continued its string of first-class play against the perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse D.C. United with a historic 4-0 thrashing at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The beating ties the largest margin of victory in team history. It was also RSL’s first victory of the season. Ironically, last season’s first triumph — which didn’t come until June 23 — also came against United.

Midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who starred in the stellar performance by RSL’s midfield, started off the night with a goal coming in the 12th minute.

Right-back Chris Wingert had been pushed up in the counter-attack as he so often does, but instead of a signature cross into the box, Wingert decided to pass to wing Dema Kovalenko.

Kovalenko did not disappoint in his first start at Rice-Eccles.

The Ukrainian-midfielder found an unmarked and streaking Beckerman in the middle. Beckerman was suddenly one-on-one with rookie keeper Jose Carvallo.

RSL has struggled in the past with the art of finishing, but Beckerman made sure that was not the case this time around. He calmly sent a quick, left-footed shot near the post, and RSL took an early 1-0 lead.

“Great ball by Dema (Kovalenko),” Beckerman said. “That’s kinda what we’ve been lacking in the first two games. We’ve been putting teams on the ropes but haven’t been putting them out.”

RSL did not hesitate to put D.C. United out in this game.

Despite D.C. controlling much of the first half, RSL’s counterattacks were more than up to par. In the 19th minute, Kovalenko sent a field-switching cross to the left side, and forward Fabian Espindola used his left foot as a weapon. Espindola awaited a high bounce off the Rice-Eccles turf and chest trapped it once before volleying it near post. Carvallo was able to put a hand on the ball but couldn’t stop it from simply rolling in and giving RSL a 2-0 lead.

“I’m very happy about (his goal),” Espindola said. “But I really feel better for the team because we deserved to get this result.”

Kovalenko’s two-assist accomplishment is only the fifth time in RSL history that a player has done so and only the third time a player has accomplished the feat in a single half.

Despite the offensive performance by RSL, the defensive combination of center-backs Matias Mantilla and Nat Borchers were equally impressive. United’s Jaime Moreno, who is a 100-goal club member, and last year’s MLS MVP Luciano Emilio would not be heard from the entire night.

“I was very pleased on how we dealt with things in the box,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. “I thought our defenders did very well dealing with crosses, which has been our weakness.”

The second-half would be no different from the first.

In the 77th minute, sub forward Robbie Findley dished the ball to a streaking Beckerman who powered the ball toward the upper-90 of the far post.

In the 83rd minute, RSL used their final sub to bring on rookie Tony Beltran, and he paid immediate dividends. In the 87th minute, Beltran skied a ball toward United’s half, which featured the speedster Findley one-on-one with Gonzalo Peralta.

The ball took a huge bounce and Peralta tried to head it clear but instead sent it straight up. Carvallo came out to challenge the play, but Findley noticed and rose to the occasion, heading it past both to score the fourth and final goal of the night.

“We’ve been trying to send a message all season,” Beckerman said. “We’re a new Real Salt Lake.”

Game Notes: Forward Kenny Deuchar was cited with a yellow card in the 30th minute. U-23 star Nathan Sturgis got his first start of the season in the defensive midfield. RSL outshot D.C. 11-6. Attendance: 13,193.

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Aaron Schwendiman

Fabian Espindola scored the second of RSL’s four goals in a historic victory over DC United.