Real Salt Lake may have lost the Rocky Mountain Cup, but they kept their playoff hopes alive on Sunday night.
Two spectacular goals, from Joao Plata and Luke Mulholland respectively, overcame an early header from Kevin Doyle and gave RSL the full three points and a 2-1 victory over their rival, the Colorado Rapids. Despite a flat start from the visitors, the team responded with urgency and did what they had to do in order to have a shot at the postseason.
It would’ve been easy for RSL to hang their heads just a little bit. Doyle scored what could have potentially been a postseason-ending goal with his head in just the 16th minute of play. Colorado came at RSL with some heavy physical play, just like the Earthquakes last week, but RSL didn't back down.
“We had the confidence all week long that we could play, to go on the road and get the ball on the ground,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said after the game. “It took a little bit of time to get going but I thought we did better than we did in San Jose in dealing with the physical play, dealing with a very direct attack. We kept our head’s [when] we gave up that first goal.”
Plata sparked the RSL comeback with an amazing individual free kick in the 33rd minute when he curled a shot over the wall and left Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin stuck in place. Plata’s goal leveled the match and seemed to light RSL’s offense on fire.
“I mean the worst-case scenario was to concede a goal in the first 15 minutes away from home,” Mulholland said. “We definitely had a tough ask, and we responded well. An unbelievable free kick from Plata [got] us back level and then from there we were able to kick on and take care of business in the first half.”
“Kick on” for Mulholland meant adding a golazo of his own just 10 minutes later. The Englishman corralled a partially-cleared, short corner and had a go from about 25 yards out. His shot might have been even prettier than Plata’s.
“I just hang out on the edge of the box looking for any scraps, either to put back into the box or have a shot on goal,” Mulholland said, describing the buildup to his goal. “I saw that I had time to take a touch and hit one. It just sliced into the back of the net and I was delighted with that.”
Mulholland’s goal proved to be the game-winner and the Rapids were unable to put any further shots on frame in the second half. Juan Manuel Martinez, Javier Morales, Sebastian Jaime and Plata finally were able to share the field together as starters. Despite the team’s slow start, they flashed the offensive prowess that many had been hoping for.
Now RSL have everything to play for and this result has the team eager to get back to work.
“It makes the next eight days better,” Cassar said. “But, we need to get a lot of work done to prepare for Portland. It’s going to be nice. It’s nice for the guys. It’s nice for everyone because we’re still in this and we’re going to do our very best to make a push.”