SANDY, Utah -- It was a question of "What if?" for both sides in the first Rocky Mountain Cup clash of the season on Saturday.
The first 20 minutes of a 3-0 victory by Real Salt Lake left the Colorado Rapids wondering how well they could have played without two handballs. And in spite of picking up the win, RSL were to an extent left doubting whether the last 10 minutes will be as confidence-building as they hope.
Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson was adamant his side bossed the match.
“I’ve not this season so far seen a more one-sided opening to the game, with 11 players on the pitch we were incredibly dominant. We were incredibly strong up until the sending off,” Hudson said.
The first big turning point came when Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard handled the ball outside the box and was shown a red card in the 20th minute. Even down a man, Hudson was optimistic they could hold on for a point at the least.
“There was only one team in it at the start of the game. I haven’t felt this confident all season in a game and even with 10 men I thought we could get a result,” Hudson said.
That optimism lasted until the 81st minute, when another handball, this time inside the box, led to a penalty that Joao Plata put away for a 1-0 RSL lead. That stroke of fortune, meanwhile, was not anticipated on the opposing bench.
“It was to a point where we were going to throw up another attacking player and then the first goal came,” Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke said.
The second handball effectively put the nail in the coffin for Colorado and two quick goals after that sealed the 3-0 victory for RSL.
It was an important result, even aside from the rivalry stakes. With struggles on the road and a glaring home loss to LAFC, even wins at home have not come easy. Playing up a man for 70 minutes, Salt Lake still had to grind out a victory.
“Today we played with a lot of passion, patience, self-confidence and at the end we won 3-0. We’ll try to play the same way on the road against Vancouver,” RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach, who scored the insurance tally to make it 2-0, said.
That self-confidence and patience was helped along by both handballs, but Kreilach’s goal was an excellent finish and Albert Rusnak’s free kick to complete the trio of goals curled into the near post. Both should add confidence to an attack that saw the return of Plata on the night.
Salt Lake’s away trip to Vancouver next week and four of their next five on the road will determine if Saturday’s confidence is something that can work away from Rio Tinto. Petke admitted he wasn't sure if RSL would have had enough without the proverbial bounces going their way on the night.
“It goes through my head what happens if the red card wasn’t given? What would this game have ended up?” Petke said. “None of us are where we want to be right now, but we just won 3-0 against a conference rival.”
And while the game didn't turn out the way they wanted, considering their superior form coming into the game will this unusual result be more than a speed bump moving forward for the Rapids?
"We leave here disappointed because we have not got the points, disappointed with the situation, but with a huge amount of confidence that it’s not a real result in the sense of reflecting on the first 20 minutes of the game,” Hudson said.