Harry: I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.
Lloyd: I was thinking the same thing. That John Denver’s full of s***, man.
—Dumb and Dumber
To say Saturday’s opening leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids was a little “rocky” perhaps overstates the two teams’ difficulties in Sandy. But it certainly captures each side’s struggles for portions of the match, as Colorado looked shaky in the first half, while RSL took its lumps in the second stanza. Nevertheless, RSL held on, and with a 2-1 victory, extended its unbeaten streak to start the 2014 season.
RSL looked dominant early. Enjoying over 60% possession for the first 35 minutes of the match, Real drew first blood in the 23rd minute. Joao Plata capped off an eight-pass combination involving five players by slotting home a shot to Rapids keeper Clint Irwin’s far post. Ned Grabavoy almost doubled the home side’s lead in the 30th minute when Javier Morales’s perfectly weighted through ball freed Grabavoy into the box, but the shot was not well placed, and Irwin was equal to the task.
RSL grabbed another goal after the break as Morales converted a 52nd-minute penalty kick earned by Devon Sandoval. Sandoval ran onto a through ball from Grabavoy in the Colorado penalty area before ultimately being taken to ground by a bump from Drew Moor. Morales stepped to the spot for the ensuing PK and wrong-footed Irwin before coolly placing the ball into the upper-right corner of the net.
But after Morales’s goal, Colorado grabbed control of the action. Colorado’s Moor found himself in position to pull back a goal for the visitors in the 57th and 59th minutes. But Moor failed to turn either opportunity on frame, heading the ball wide from six yards before outdoing himself with a subsequent miss from four yards. (In Moor’s defense, he was back-peddling on the first attempt, and the second was a reaction header with little time to pick his target.)
Colorado’s pressure paid off in the 83rd minute after controlling possession for much of the half. Dillon Serna’s free kick found the head of Moor, who had lost Nat Borchers near the six-yard box, and the Rapids defender partially atoned for his previous misses by heading home.
Although RSL looked shaky for the final ten minutes of the game, the team managed to bend without breaking, ultimately hanging on to the 2-1 score line. The win gives RSL the inside track to the Rocky Mountain Cup. RSL and Colorado will play two more times this season; a win by RSL in either of those games, or a draw in both, will secure the cup.
With the victory, RSL improves to 6-0-5 (23 points, 2nd in the West). RSL is home again next Saturday against the West’s 3rd-place team, FC Dallas (5-5-2, 17 points).
- In the 37th minute, RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland sat down on the field with an apparent injury. Team trainer Tyson Pace met Mulholland on the field and proceeded to rip off the toenail of Mulholland’s right big toe, which had apparently been damaged beyond repair moments before. Mulholland winced, but dealt with the pain and continued to play for almost the rest of the game.
— Heath Waddingham (@RSLTotalMLS) May 18, 2014
- One big question Colorado is going to be asking after this match: was there really any contact on the foul that resulted in RSL’s PK conversion? The foul was called on Drew Moor, and the contact—if any—looked slight. That said, there was some contact, and the camera angles I saw did not clearly show how much force that contact involved. I want to give Mark Geiger the benefit of the doubt, but it looked like a bit of an iffy call.
- With his penalty kick goal today, Javier Morales registered his fourth goal in two games after starting the season with nine goalless matches. Morales also assisted on Plata’s opening score.
- After Morales’s penalty kick conversion in the 52nd minute, referee Mark Geiger’s calls were decidedly in favor of the visitors. Where first half fouls were even at 7 apiece, the second half saw RSL whistled for 13 fouls to Colorado’s 3. What surprised me more was that Colorado lasted the whole match without receiving a single card. While Colorado certainly seemed to get off with a slap on the wrist on a few occasions, I agree with three of the four yellow cards Geiger gave to RSL: Grossman for a tactical foul breaking up a counter, Morales for a dive in the box, and John Stertzer for a clumsy challenge. As for Mulholland’s yellow card, he was booked for dissent. I don’t know what he said, but I’ll trust Geiger’s judgment on that one.
- Saturday’s RSL match was the first of what could be many without national team players Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, and Alvaro Saborio. In their place, Jeff Cassar started Cole Grossman, Jeff Attinella, and Devon Sandoval. The game was a testament to RSL’s depth; none of the three fill-ins was perfect, but each performed admirably. RSL fans were already well aware of Attinella’s and Sandoval’s abilities from their past appearances, but Grossman was a bit of an unknown quantity. Filling in for Beckerman is no small task. Grossman looked comfortable in his role, which is a good sign not only for this stretch of games during the World Cup season, but also for RSL’s future in the post-Beckerman era.
- Jeff Cassar has shown a penchant for curious substitution patterns. This season, Cassar has used only two of his substitutions on multiple occasions. Saturday, it looked for a while like he would use none. Luis Gil was the first substitute to enter the game, and he didn’t approach the fourth official until the 85th minute (ultimately getting on in the 89th minute). In response to a question about his substitution decisions in this game, Cassar said, “It was difficult because I thought everyone was playing well and we wanted to waste some time and also get Javier out because he picked up a knock and kind of kill the game off with some substitutions rather than making subs just to make subs.”
- The fans in the west stands prepared an excellent Godfather-themed tifo. The full banner reads “Come on DLH, Make Garth an Offer He Can’t Refuse.” The tifo, pictured in the tweet below, is a message to Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen to do everything possible to keep general manager Garth Lagerwey, whose contract expires at the end of this season.
— Jason (@KungFuCantona) May 18, 2014
- Final thought. One moment that could have affected the outcome of this match occurred in the 62nd minute. After Joao Plata was called offside in the Colorado penalty area, Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin opted for a quick restart. Unfortunately for Irwin, he kicked the ball directly to Plata, who was only about seven yards away. Irwin immediately protested that Plata was too close to the ball when the kick was taken, and, surprisingly, referee Mark Geiger agreed and called for a re-kick. The whistle negated a possible one-on-one situation for Plata. This call appears to have been an officiating error, plain and simple. The Interpretation to Law 13 of the FIFA Laws of the Game includes the following: “If a player decides to take a free kick quickly and an opponent who is less than 10 yards from the ball intercepts it, the referee must allow play to continue.” Additionally, the Interpretation states: “If, when a free kick is taken by the defending team from inside its own penalty area, one or more opponents remain inside the penalty area because the defender decides to take the kick quickly and the opponents did not have time to leave the penalty area, the referee must allow play to continue.” Had Plata scored, RSL would have led 3-0. Because Real Salt Lake ultimately won anyway, this appears to have been a no-harm-no-foul situation.
(image courtesy of Russ Isabella/USA Today Sports)