It wasn’t pretty, but in the end it was another three-point effort tonight for Real Salt Lake, the Utah side using a FW Paulo Junior penalty kick in the early going to post a 1-0 victory over the expansion Montreal Impact in front of a sold out crowd of 20,191 at Rio Tinto Stadium. With the result, Real Salt Lake (4-1-0, 12 pts.) now stands alone atop the Western Conference standings, three points clear of both San Jose and Colorado, and sits even with Sporting Kansas City for the most points across Major League Soccer.
Real Salt Lake earned the only goal it would need against Montreal (0-4-1, 1 pt.) in the 12th minute, when the extended hand of Salt Lake City native Justin Braunknocked down MF Will Johnson’s header towards frame inside the penalty area, earning an immediate point to the penalty spot by referee Ricardo Salazar. A minute later it was Paulo Junior showing no hesitation to take the spot kick, which he buried low and inside the right post, just past the outstretched dive of Impact ‘keeperDonovan Ricketts.
While the first half saw some entertaining back-and-forth play, the second half saw Real Salt Lake take control in the early stages, the home side unlucky to not get another past Ricketts, whose stop of FW Fabian Espíndola’s header in the 66th minute marked the save of the match. The game did take a physical turn as it progressed, and the Claret-and-Cobalt held onto the full three points for dear life down the stretch, having to play a man down for the final five minutes after MF Javier Morales left the field due to injury.
Real Salt Lake Match Notes
- After getting back to nearly full health, Real Salt Lake suffered a pair of setbacks to its midfield in the late going, with Ned Grabavoy reportedly playing the final 20 minutes with at least one broken rib and Javier Morales suffering a pulled hamstring near full time according to Head Coach Jason Kreis. More information will be provided by Real Salt Lake on Thursday after further evaluation by the team’s medical staff.
- DF Terakazu Tanaka’s first appearance for the Claret-and-Cobalt in regular season play lasted the duration of the match, the Japanese newcomer playing the full 90 minutes at right back. With Tanaka inserted into the starting XI, DF Tony Beltran flipped flanks to the left side normally manned by DF Chris Wingert.
- After making a late – and important – cameo in Saturday’s match at Portland, MF Jonny Steele also earned his first MLS start tonight, playing 63 minutes against Montreal on the left side of RSL’s midfield diamond.
- With tonight’s victory, Real Salt Lake improves its record against expansion teams in their first visit to Utah to 6-1-1.
- The penalty kick conversion by FW Paulo Junior marked the Brazilian’s first goal of 2012 and the third in his now 19 career MLS regular season appearances. The PK attempt was his first in an RSL uniform.
- MF Will Johnson made his return to the starting lineup against Montreal and played the full 90 minutes, this after seeing his first minutes last Saturday in Portland. The Canadian international missed the entire preseason and the first three regular season contests with an adductor strain and subsequent surgery.
- Making good use of the depth in his squad, Kreis’ starting XI against Montreal featured six different players than the one that took the field in Saturday’s 3-2 win at Portland.
- FW Fabian Espindola made his 100th appearance for Real Salt Lake in MLS regular season play tonight, maintaining his eighth-place ranking on RSL’s all-time appearance leaderboard (two behind fellow Argentine MF Javier Morales).
- The 20,191 fans in attendance tonight gave Real Salt Lake its second straight shutout, bringing its average attendance at Rio Tinto Stadium through three games to 19,115.
- Tonight’s match marked the middle game in a three-game, eight-day stretch for Real Salt Lake, the first of five such runs during the 2012 season.