the first time in club history they'd gone that long without a loss -- while the Fire had finally reached the end of their long and winding road, a six-game unbeaten streak coming to an end the weekend before at Chivas.
Jeff Cunningham had four goals in his past three games -- all as a substitute -- but he was given the start with the suspension to Atiba Harris. In the 57th minute he showed it didn't matter, gathering a pass from Carey Talley curled in behind the Fire back four and turning home a low drive inside the far post from the left side of the area to give RSL the lead.
The Fire pulled level just five minutes later, Brian Plotkin running onto a loose ball every bit of 30 yards from the RSL goal and lashing a screaming drive inside Scott Garlick's left-hand post.
Cunningham created the go-ahead goal for the home side when he put a low rolling cross into the goalmouth that Fire rookie Dasan Robinson could only turn into his own goal (69). Then in the 77th minute he did complete his double, deftly chipping Zach Thornton from outside the right corner of the box to move into a tie atop the MLS Golden Boot standings.
Real head coach John Ellinger made one change to the team that played to a 2-2 draw with the Rapids the weekend before, Cunningham coming into the team in place of the suspended Atiba Harris, his first start since May 6.
Here's Ellinger's team (4-4-2): Scott Garlick - Kevin Novak, Nelson Akwari, Daniel Torres, Willis Forko - Chris Klein, Kenny Cutler (Andy Williams 69), Carey Talley, Mehdi Ballouchy - Jason Kreis, Jeff Cunningham (Jamie Watson 88). [Substitutes Not Used: Nikolas Besagno, Chris Brown, Christian Jimenez, Ryan Johnson, Jay Nolly]
Cunningham has six goals in four games, and all of them have been scored after the 57th minute. Ellinger said Cunningham has played a big part in the team's recent winning run.
"It was just a matter of his confidence," Ellinger said. Early in the season, when RSL went 0-5-1, "he was pushing the envelope a little bit, and the weight of what was happening with the team was wearing down on him."
The late explosion also continued another trend for Real. Twelve of their 15 goals have been scored in the second half, 10 in the final half hour and six in the last 15 minutes.
"A big part of that has to do with our fitness," coach John Ellinger said. "That's been a radical improvement from last year. ... We get more of the killer instinct that we didn't see last year, but we're getting to see it emerge from this group."
Real have scored 10 of their goals in the last four games. "Even when we were going through the hard time at the beginning of the season, they never stopped working in training and never stopped working in games," Ellinger said. "They never really stopped believing, and it just took one good game, the L.A. game, and confidence shot up. The guys will tell you, the feel like they are over the hump."
RSL goalkeeper Scott Garlick was credited with his 100th career victory in the win against the Fire, a milestone his teammates were clearly excited about but that he downplayed. "I don't necessarily play this game for individual accomplishments," Garlick said. "It's a team game."
After the game, Garlick was presented him with a game ball, signed by all of his teammates. He also received plenty of hugs and congratulations from teammates and coaches after postgame interviews. "It validates a lot of the hard work I've put in over the years, and it validates the work my teammates have put in," he said.