SANDY, Utah - In what was a battle between the reigning MLS Cup champs and their immediate predecessors, Wednesday’s matchup between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids at Rio Tinto Stadium had plenty of potential for fireworks. What came instead, however, was a bruising 90 minute struggle that, once again, came down to 2nd half stoppage time. For the third game in a row between these two teams, RSL came up with some late magic and this time won 1-0 in dramatic fashion.
Fabian Espindola played the hero, knocking home the rebound of a Javier Morales free-kick 2 minutes into stoppage to keep RSL perfect through four league games. Colorado, meanwhile, dropped their second in a row.
It appeared that the expected matchup was in order as Real Salt Lake was able to dominate the possession over the first portion of the match, while Colorado seemed poised to counterattack behind the speed of Omar Cummings and the size of Caleb Forlan. However, as it would turn out both teamslacked their normal sharpness and much of the game was played between the eighteens.
Colorado had a good early chance when Jamie Smith took an early volley from outside the area that surprised everyone except RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who smothered the shot.
Just one minute later, Nat Borchers had a clear header opportunity that went well wide of goal.
The best chance for the Rapids came also in the early stages as Omar Cummings caught a break against the slower Nat Borchers. Defender Chris Wingert did a good job of hustling back to help. Cummings laid off a nice pass to Smith who came into the picture, but Wingert responded well and got a foot on the shot attempt.
It appeared that Espindola had broken the ice late in the first half, but he was ruled offside after knocking the ball in the net.
The second half was a back-and-forth slugfest with a great deal of strong tackles, and missed passes. Neither team created many opportunities in the half, and it appeared that the match was headed to a scoreless draw.
However, in stoppage time another set piece goal gave the home team the victory. Javier Morales lined up a free kick from 25 yards out. His attempt at goal hit the upright, and rebounded to Paulo Jr. who was unable to control it, but nudged it forward to Espindola who was able to put the ball away for the game winner.
RSL will look to retain the Rocky Mountain Cup for the fifth straight season when the teams meet on October 14 in Colorado.
RSL -- Fabian Espindola 1 (Paulo Araujo Jr. 2) 93+
Colorado Rapids -- Matt Pickens, Kosuke Kimura, Marvell Wynne, Tyrone Marshall, Drew Moor, Brian Mullan, Jamie Smith (Andre Akpan 86), Jeff Larentowicz, Wells Thompson, Omar Cummings (Quincy Amarikwa 64) (Sanna Nyassi 69), Caleb Folan.
Substitutes Not Used: Joseph Nane, Scott Palguta, Anthony Wallace, Steward Ceus.
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, Alvaro Saborio (Paulo Araujo Jr. 69), Fabian Espindola.
Substitutes Not Used: Jean Alexandre, Arturo Alvarez, Robbie Russell, Chris Schuler, Collen Warner, Kyle Reynish.
RSL -- Javier Morales (caution; Reckless Tackle) 32
COL -- Tyrone Marshall (caution; Tactical Foul) 59
COL -- Marvell Wynne (caution; Tactical Foul) 82
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee's Assistants: -Peter Manikowski; Craig Lowry
4th Official: Tyler Ploeger
Time of Game: 1:51