By: Jae Groll
In what could possibly be a first round match up in the MLS Cup playoffs FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake faced of at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday night. Each team had a significant streak to defend and something had to snap.
RSL came in defending a home unbeaten streak of 24 games and were looking to make it the entire season without losing at the stadium the Salt Lake fans have come to affectionately call “The RIOT”. Dallas had an impressive league record tying 19 game overall unbeaten streak of their own to defend, but the night belonged to RSL.
The first 15 minutes of the game were all FCD. They pressed far up the pitch and disrupted RSL’s possession passing game. The tactic was very effective but one had to wonder how long they could keep it up in the thin, high altitude Utah air.
By the 20 min mark RSL figured out how to break the Dallas pressure and started to take the reins of the game. Will Johnson and Alvaro Saborio both ranging in with shots at the half hour mark were a portent of things to come.
Just after the break Dallas brought on ex-RSL striker Jeff Cunningham and the move almost paid dividends immediately. With his first touch, Cunningham found himself in the box with the ball at his feet but his turning shot was blasted into the stands.
Minutes later a bad giveaway at the edge of the RSL box created the best chance of the game up to that point. Once again Cunningham found himself 1-on1 with keeper Nick Rimando and his hard, low, near post shot was smothered by the RSL keeper who is having his best MLS season ever.
The shot woke something up in RSL as they began to apply pressure of their own. Javier Morales switching play from left to right to Robbie Russell. Russell lofted a ball into the box that somehow found the head of little Ned Grabavoy. Grabavoy’s header floated ever so slowly over stranded Dallas keeper Dario Sala, who had somehow found himself off his line and helpless, as the ball seemed to take forever to sail into the FCD goal.
Predictably, the goal opened the game up with both teams starting to bypass midfield. As the clock struck 90′ second half substitute Robbie Findley found his way in behind the defense on the left side and presented Morales with the ball at the top of the box and only Sala in his way. The slotted shot low and hard found the back of the net and ended any hopes of an injury time equalizer for the visitors.
This win clinches home field advantage for RSL in the Conference semi-finals and secures an unbeaten home season. It was important for RSL to send a message to their potential playoff opponents and Dallas has to be scratching their heads as they fly back to Texas wondering what it takes to beat this team at the RIOT.
More good news for RSL came later in the evening when the LA Galaxy lost at home to the Colorado Rapids and failed to secure the Supporters Shield. The LA Loss means that if RSL can beat their Rocky Mountain rivals next week, LA will be in a must win situation against FCD to win the Shield and the automatic berth into CONFACAF Champions League play next year.
RSL next play Cruz Azul Tuesday October 19th at Rio Tinto in the CONCACAF Champions League.