SANDY, Utah—A well-timed water break was all Real Salt Lake needed for a 4-2 win over Sporting Kansas City and an impressive final 60 minutes to put themselves on the move in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
Goals from four different scorers -- Jefferson Savarino, Corey Baird, Sebastian "Bofo" Saucedo and Luis Silva -- first brought RSL level with Sporting, before taking the lead and never looking back at a festive Rio Tinto Stadium on the 4th of July.
“It’s definitely a statement win,” Baird said, after the game. “Kansas CIty had their periods when they were on top, but we capitalized on the moments of the game where we were on top and were able to finish our chances.”
The final 25 minutes of the first half were dominated by Salt Lake, as they scored three unanswered goals and took control of the game. The second half became much more of a slugfest, as fouls and cards piled up with two Kansas City players sent off late.
While the win may not mean too much in the grand scheme of things as it comes on a Wednesday night at the start of July, it does signal the potential for a long run of good form.
“It’s huge. It means a lot,” said RSL head coach Mike Petke. “It’s a new rivalry to me, you see the passion and the fight. We’re still behind KC quite a bit, so it means three points for us tonight and we kept them at their current level.”
RSL won’t close the gap between themselves, currently in fourth place, and the top of the Conference in a week, but after Salt Lake’s torrid finish last year, another hot streak could push them into the conversation as a Western Conference favorite come the playoffs.
“We have such a special team,” Saucedo said. “We have great players all around. We have leadership. We have players that have been here for such a long time and we have players that play at the international level.
“If we keep it going we can be a special group in the future going into playoffs. We just have to stay focused.”
That focus hasn’t been present in many of RSL’s games against top-tier teams this season. Good stretches were cancelled out by lapses on defense or not being able to finish in the attacking half. The 4-2 victory over Kansas City makes for an example of how quickly Salt Lake can turn around a game, even against one of the better defenses in the league.
“When we’re playing well we’re one of the top teams in the league and it showed tonight,” Baird said.