SANDY, Utah — When Real Salt Lake went down a goal to the Colorado Rapids on Friday night, there was no panic. A bit of surprise, perhaps, given that the 21st-minute goal came against the run of play, but no panic.
And there was nothing to fear. RSL stormed back with three goals in five minutes, and four goals in 13 minutes, en route to a resounding 5-1 win over the struggling Rapids at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I like the way we started the game,” RSL Coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “Obviously, we don't want to give up the first goal, for sure. But we had momentum when they got that goal.”
RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland rejected the notion that going down a goal woke RSL up.
“No, I didn't think we started off slow or anything,” he told reporters. “A couple of times we lost it in dangerous positions.”
RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy agreed.
“I don't know if it was a wake-up call necessarily,” Grabavoy told reporters. “We were maybe a bit unclean with some of our clearances — just some of our first passes out of pressure when we won the ball. And [Colorado's Jose Mari] hits an unbelievable shot.
“But I think … our first goal really got us back into things,”
If there was a turning point, it came on that first goal, 11 minutes later after Jose Mari's strike, when RSL forward Joao Plata equalized on a beautiful goal in the upper right corner of the net — Mulholland called it “a world-class goal,” and it unleashed a flood of goals that ultimately drowned Colorado.
It was Plata's team-leading 13-goal of the season, and arguably his prettiest.
“He's been fantastic all year,” Cassar said. “He's been quality all year. It was a great build-up. Great little combination play. It was fun to watch.”
Grabavoy, who provided the assist that set up that goal, put it more simply.
“He's our best player,” Grabavoy said of Plata. “I think everybody probably has a different view of that, but he's our best soccer player.”
It certainly didn't hurt RSL that Colorado goalkeeper Joe Nasco had a tough night. Two of Salt Lake's goals came after he bobbled the ball; a third was an own-goal that Plata deflected off the 'keeper.
“It's just one of those nights,” said Cassar, himself a former goalkeeper and RSL's longtime goalkeeper coach before getting the head coach job this season. “He made some fantastic saves to keep his team in it. But when you apply pressure to teams so much, at some point the dam's going to break.”
Real Salt Lake clearly reacted better to going down a goal than they have to going up a goal on several occasions this season. Cassar pointed to last week's 3-2 loss in Seattle when, “after we scored the first goal, there was a little bit of a letdown, and that allowed Seattle to gain a little bit of confidence.”
In contrast, Friday's big win over Colorado, Cassar said he “loved the reaction from the guys. The message all week long was aggression, aggression, aggression. No letdown at any point. And the guys did an amazing job of that.”