Real Salt Lake lean on bend-don't-break mentality to hold off Colorado Rapids
SANDY, Utah - Once again, Real Salt Lake found itself defending a late lead. And, once again, it gave up a late goal - 83rd minute - and found itself clinging to a one-goal lead as the match went into stoppage time.
But this time, the Claret-and-Cobalt managed to fend off a hard-charging Colorado squad that continually sent the ball into the box in a desperate attempt to get out of Rio Tinto Stadium with a point.
"I mean, you don't want to give up any late goals," said RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. "But we'll definitely take the three points. And take this like a baby step. We're only 11 games in, so we have a lot to learn. Some games could have gone our way; some games haven't gone our way."
Even the games that haven't gone RSL's way have ended up in ties. The team remains unbeaten (6-0-5, 23 points) nearly a third of the way into the season. But giving up stoppage-time goals against San Jose and Vancouver and a 90th-minute goal against Philadelphia resulted in three of the five ties and cost the Claret-and-Cobalt six points.
So, yes, giving up one late goal instead of two certainly feels like progress. Although RSL was under seige in the finale 20 minutes or so of the win over Colorado on Saturday, fending off chance after chance by the Rapids.
"You're going to get this," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabovoy. "If you look at any of the teams in this league, they're going to throw guys forward."
He wasn't so sure Colorado was in a 4-4-2 in the latter part of Saturday's game.
"When both wingers press high, it's almost 4v4 across our back line," Grabavoy added. "And, really, they pushed their outside backs all the way into the midfield as well. So it's going to happen. It's how we deal with it."
Despite moments of what appeared to be sheer panic, Salt Lake dealt with it well enough to get another win. And did so without three starters - Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio - who are at their countries' pre-World Cup training camps.
RSL coach Jeff Cassar told reporters that what has become a habit for his team is just what happens when you're playing from ahead. And RSL has trailed in only two of its 11 games this season.
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"That's what going to happen when you have a two-goal lead and they start dumping numbers forward and putting balls into the box," said the coach. "I thought our guys did a great job of bending and not breaking."
And he suggested it wasn't so much that RSL is playing poorly as it was that Colorado was playing well.
"It seems like we talk about this all the time, but we have to give some credit to our opponents," Cassar said. "They throw numbers forward. They start to cause havoc. But I really thought they gained most of their momentum from set plays."
The Rapids' only goal game on a header by Drew Moor off a free kick. Which is a continuing problem for RSL this season - one that Cassar said his team continues to work on.
"You can't control too much how they get their set plays, but you can control how you defend them," he said.