By: Jae Groll
Real Salt Lake fielding largely a team of reserves locked up first place in Group A Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium with a convincing victory over visiting Mexican side Cruz Azul.
Led by Paulo Jr.’s brace and some beautiful play by Collen Warner, RSL strolled to a 3-1 victory.
As has been the case in RSL’s recent games the first quarter of an hour was largely a feeling out process with not much action. That is good news though. Earlier in the season RSL had struggled by giving up early goals to opposing sides and having to dig their way back into the game.
Cruz Azul fired the first shots of the game on 18’ and 25’. Gimenez on a free kick that was struck well but not with enough pace to trouble RSL reserve keeper Kyle Reynish and Aquino firing a dangerous right footed blast just wide of the post respectively.
It was a chippy first half with some hard challenges and the occasional push and shove. As the half wore on RSL began to assert their dominance with their trademark passing game and once they found rhythm they would not get knocked off stride for the remainder of the game.[picappgallerysingle id=”9607579″]
Paulo Jr. broke things open with a beautiful goal in the 43rd minute. Played through midfield with a slick pass from Warner, Paulo Jr. deftly chipped the rushing CA keeper with a coolness that many veteran players would love to boast.
The Second stanza started much as the first but RSL stayed true to their style and it would pay more dividends.
Super sub Robbie Findley, who in recent games has come on late and caused teams all kinds of problems with his speed and ability to consistently get in behind defenses, once again proved his worth.
67 minutes in, with his first touches of the match, Findley once again blew apart the left wing and delivered a point perfect cross to Paulo Jr. who just managed to squeeze in front of the defender at the 6 yard box and touch the ball in for his second of the match.
Colin Warner put his panache on the event taking a pass from Andy Williams that knifed through the CA defense for RSL’s 3rd on 69′.
The visitors were well represented in the stands, as are all Mexican sides that come to Utah, with pockets of blue throughout the RIOT and Cruz Azul would not leave their fans empty handed.
On 71’ Villaluz fired a masterpiece from the right top corner of the box, curling and dipping to the far top corner of the goal.
The 3-1 final could have been worse for the visitors if not for a Campos penalty that was well saved by Gutierrez in the first half.
RSL are the first MLS side to win a group in the competition since the league was inserted into play 3 seasons ago.
Player of the Match: Honors must be shared here. Paulo Jr. was all over the place the whole match and his brace was a combination of deft finishing and pure striker play. 16 year old Collen Warner also gets a share of the spoils with a goal and an assist to his name and showed some serious ball control skills all evening.
Goal of the Match: Without a doubt Villaluz’s corker. Not a keeper in the world could have saved the wickedly moving shot. His goal showcased just how good teams in this competition really are.
Stat to note: 0……The amount of goals that Cruz Azul striker Javier Orozco scored. After tearing the competition up for 10 goals before tonight’s game, the RSL defense, sans Olave, shut the mercurial forward completely down.
RLS next face the Colorado Rapids in their final MLS regular season match on Saturday. The Supporters Shield still up for grabs and it promises to be a hotly contested event as is always the case when these arch rivals meet up.