I’ll admit it. It’s tough to predict what will happen in a season opener. But for Real Salt Lake over the last five seasons, the smart money is on a win. Real Salt Lake held on Saturday night to defeat the L.A. Galaxy via a Joao Plata goal in the 80th minute. The win gives RSL its fifth straight victory in a season opener, with two of those wins coming against the Galaxy.
The match did not lack drama. The first half featured outstanding saves from both Nick Rimando and Jaime Penedo, with each goalkeeper denying quality goal-scoring opportunities. Penedo pawed aside Plata’s 25th minute near-post attempt from just outside the six-yard box, while Rimando turned away Landon Donovan’s far-post try in the 38th minute. The goalpost also got involved in the action in the 34th minute, denying Robbie Keane’s wide-open shot from the top of the eighteen.
But the game’s greatest action came in the final twenty minutes, as new RSL man Luke Mulholland was denied a good goal by an unquestionably wrong offside flag. A subsequent replay of the goal showed that Mulholland was actually well onside, with four Galaxy players between Mulholland and the goal when the ball was last touched by another RSL player.
Karma balanced things out barely four minutes later, though, as a beautiful Kyle Beckerman through ball sent Plata in alone to push a shot past Penedo.
L.A. did have one final opportunity to pull even in stoppage time, as Tony Beltran was called for a questionable foul on Rob Friend on a long ball into the box. But Robbie Keane’s ensuing penalty kick was saved by Rimando, and the final whistle sounded shortly thereafter, giving RSL the 1-0 victory.
Simply put, Nick Rimando showed once again why he is the best keeper in MLS. He stopped all nine shots he faced, including a point blank reaction save on Landon Donovan, a diving stop against Robbie Keane in the first half, and the game-clinching penalty save. I can’t help but think that even with that season opening performance, Rimando is probably already being snubbed for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.
In spite of RSL’s winning performance, the team was badly outshot and slightly outpossessed. Under similar circumstances last year, the Galaxy made RSL pay to the tune of a 4-2 drubbing featuring a Keane hat trick. Had Nick Rimando not stood on his head in this game, the result likely would have been similar. Nick’s performance hearkened back to his shutout in the first leg of the 2012 playoffs against Seattle, a match that left Rimando bloodied, but with a clean sheet.
This match also brought a number of pleasant surprises. Luke Mulholland came on for Luis Gil in the 66th minute and had a solid game, contributing a (should-have-been) goal and positioning himself well around the field. But for me, the unexpected performance of the night came from Aaron Maund, filling in for the injured Chris Schuler at center back. Maund made a number of goal-saving plays, including denying Samuel’s empty net rebound at the back post early in the first half and tracking down Robbie Keane on a breakaway. Maund played very well for a guy who only appeared in three games last season.
And how about Jeff Cassar? He fields a brilliant lineup in his first game as head coach, makes good substitutions, and as a reward, his team earns a full three points on the road against a very strong Galaxy side. One game may not be enough to judge how Cassar’s time as head coach will ultimately go, but this was certainly a better-than-anticipated start.
Cassar’s team will now travel to San Jose before returning home for a rematch against L.A. The team will then welcome a reinvigorated Toronto FC before hitting the road for a 2013 MLS Cup rematch against Sporting KC. Not exactly an easy opening schedule, but if RSL can manage to pull out results from these matches, its late-season schedule could set the team up for a Supporters’ Shield run.
How About Those Pre-Game Predictions?
Let’s revisit my pre-match predictions and see how I did.
Javi will find his name on the score sheet. He played well, but no goals or assists. No dice.
Landon Donovan will not find his name on the score sheet, but will set up a goal. I was half-right. Landon didn’t score, in spite of two excellent opportunities (both denied by Nick Rimando).
Kyle Beckerman will earn the season’s first yellow. Amazingly, of four yellow cards shown to RSL, none were given to Beckerman. Morales actually registered the team’s first yellow. FUN FACT: Rimando received a yellow card for delaying the game prior to Keane’s penalty kick as he…erm, “chatted,” with the ref. After saving the PK, Rimando appears to animatedly yell at somebody; I have to think that was directed at the referee, who in my humble opinion called a poor game.
Rimando will deny Robbie Keane twice. Nailed it. Two quality shots on goal (12’, 90’+3), two saves. Nick Rimando will eat your cookies, and he will enjoy it.
Final Score: 1-1. Again, I was half-wrong. I can’t same I’m too sad about it, though.
Predictions Result: 2/5 (I’m claiming half-credit for the two I got half-right and you can’t stop me)
Up Next: Real Salt Lake @ San Jose Earthquakes, September 15, 8:30 MT
(image courtesy of Cal Sport Media/AP)