Early in the first half of their 2-1 win at Real Salt Lake, it didn’t look like the Seattle Sounders would be the first MLS team in 30 tries to overcome “Fortress Rio Tinto.”
As a matter of fact, by the 18th minute, it looked as though all was lost for the Sounders.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Playing their third match in eight days with an already wafer-thin roster, Seattle’s injury woes got worse when they lost Designated Player Álvaro Fernández went down with a hamstring injury.
But in the driving wind and cold rain and up against the staunchest defensive team in the league, Seattle found inspiration from two unlikely sources. Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle, two players on the lower rungs of the depth chart to start the season, played critical roles in Seattle’s gutsy victory at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Fucito drew the foul on Jámison Olave’s straight red card in the 58th minute, and Neagle – who played the 2010 season with the Charleston Battery – replaced Fernández and provided what would end up being the winning goal.
Neagle’s curling effort in the 84th minute wouldn’t have been out of place in the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United earlier in the day, so sweetly was it struck.
The 24-year-old took the ball at the edge of the box and curled his right-footed shot over RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando and inside the far post.
"You always remember your first goal,” Neagle said. “It's definitely nice. I've had a couple of goals in the Reserve League, but nothing like that.”
WATCH: Neagle's sweet strike
In becoming the first team since May 2009 to beat RSL in Utah, Seattle picked up some much-needed confidence. The unlikely away win at Rio Tinto ended Real Salt Lake’s home unbeaten streak at 29, a fact not lost on the Sounders players.
"It is something we're proud of and something we talked about before the game,” said Seattle coach Sigi Schmid. “We wanted to try and be the team that ended the streak, and it was something that was a goal for us as we went into the game."
Seattle nearly allowed RSL to tie the match late. Despite playing a man down, substitute Nelson Gonzalez energized Jason Kreis’ team with a late goal. Sounders goalie Kasey Keller needed to make four saves to prevent a breakdown like the one that occurred in 2010, when Seattle conceded an equalizer to Álvaro Saborío deep into stoppage time to settle for a draw at Rio Tinto.
"We came in here last time and gave up a goal at the end, and we came close to doing that again,” Schmid said. “Being able to hold on was good, but we didn't make it easy on ourselves."
If Fernández’s hamstring keeps him sidelined for an extended period of time, Neagle may get more opportunities to play, especially after Saturday’s match and a promising substitute appearance in a 1-0 loss on Wednesday against FC Dallas.
Fucito, who gave FCD center back pairing George John and Ugo Ihemulu fits, could also see more playing time after starting back-to-back matches.
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS