It took a big mistake to separate Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night, and it ended with unbeaten RSL claiming the first leg of the 2016 Rocky Mountain Cup with a 1-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The game, dominated by strong defense, turned inside the final 20 minutes: Miscommunication in the back between Rapids goalkeeper Zac MacMath and defender Axel Sjoberg led to a looping clearance over MacMath's head near the outside of the box, and RSL attacker Joao Plata ran onto the ball and slotted it into the empty net.
The result moves RSL (3-0-2, 11 points) to second place in the West, just a point behind leaders Sporting KC (4-1-0).
- DEFENSE STOUT … BUT FOR A MOMENT: Both defenses were fully up for the game, to the point that the fire and passion normally seen in rivalry matches was almost entirely snuffed out by competent defensive play. But the mix-up between MacMath and Sjoberg proved the difference-maker, opening the door a crack for the elusive Plata to grab all three points. One figures the trip back to Colorado will be somber for the Rapids as a result.
- PLATA IS GOLD: It is so, so early in the season, of course, but Plata has four goals and three assists in five games this season. He not only looks like he's fully back to his stellar 2014 form, he already might be building an MLS MVP case.
- WHAT CENTER BACK CRISIS? It's absolutely no secret Real Salt Lake are on the hunt for a new central defender or two, but Justen Glad and Aaron Maund helped their team record their first shutout of the season in this game. Glad drew plenty of plaudits for his performance last week, while Maund in particular put in a strong performance against the Rapids – including a decisive header near RSL's goal just before halftime that prevented Shkelzen Gashi from scoring on an open net.
- RSL: Saturday, April 16 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (10 pm ET, TSN in Canada, MLS LIVE in US)
- COL: Wednesday, April 13 at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE)