Olmes Garcia has had the kind of season most forwards in Major League Soccer would like to forget. Not only did the Colombian not score this season--it appeared he might not ever tally.
On Thursday, July 24 in front of a packed Rio Tinto Stadium crowd on Pioneer Day, Real Salt Lake--and Garcia himself--needed something to start going right. RSL hadn't won since July 4, yet holidays at home seem to be kinder to the claret and cobalt.
Such was the case Thursday in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact. Before more than 20,000 fans crammed into their seats on a balmy, 97-degree evening in the Salt Lake Valley, and with Mount Olympus and its majestic, still snowy peak serving as a unique backdrop for a game, RSL set off as did Garcia on an epic quest to get three points.
Garcia hadn't scored a goal since forever--but first, let's discuss the rest of the game before we get to that story. The game itself didn't take long to get rolling.
In the third minute off of a corner kick, Chris Schuler got his head on a long flighted ball traveling into the Montreal penalty box, flicking it on towards the near post. There stood midfielder Luke Mulholland--shaking his marker free to bury home the ball on a half-volley for a 1-0 lead.
RSL then sat back uncharacteristically, enduring wave after wave of Montreal's attack until the proverbial dam broke in the 32nd minute. On a give-and-go, a Montreal defender on a run from his own back line took a perfectly timed pass, ripping a shot past Nick Rimando to tie the game at 1-1.
The game stayed level until about 15 minutes had elapsed into the second half, the time during which forward Olmes Garcia came on as a substitute for Robbie Findley--another RSL forward whose struggle to score has been well chronicled.
Garcia's pace was a perfect replacement for Findley's speed, and while the Colombian isn't as fast as Findley--he does just fine on his own, thanks. Just as Garcia needed a goal worse than the west desert needs water, RSL got two breaks during the first 10 minutes Garcia stepped on the pitch.
The first came when a Montreal player was shown a red card and sent off just four minutes after Garcia entered the game. The second came on another corner kick in the 69th minute which Javier Morales laced into.
Morales' outswinger curled into the penalty box, the ball swirling against a hot, humid breeze. Cutting through the congestion of bodies was Garcia, rising above the Montreal defenders battling to protect this tie game. Garcia won that battle of the ball and body, flicking on this cylindrical object that has befuddled him time and again this season into the net.
RSL had a 2-1 lead over Montreal now--but the game itself was far from over. Montreal might be the last place team in Major League Soccer--yet the Impact certainly didn't play like it in front of a sold-out crowd hungry for a W. To boot, Montreal was still getting forward with numbers--even if the Impact were only playing with 10 men.
This is becoming a problem for RSL who is continuously allowing its opponents to construct counterattacks in the past several games. Whether the back line is playing too compact and allowing teams to switch the point of attack is a talking point, certainly--but the Impact still took full advantage of RSL's inability to track back.
In the 75th minute, Montreal made sure the switch was on, sailing a ball over RSL's back line, which a Montreal winger sent back into RSL's penalty box. After a few mishits by both RSL and Montreal players, the ball squirted outside the box. A Montreal midfielder took the ball off one bounce, slamming a knuckleball at the RSL goal.
Luckily for RSL it had goalkeeper Nick Rimando at its beck and call. Rimando may have had his shutout spoiled in the first half--but to heck if he was going to let Montreal tie it at 2-2. He leaped towards the crossbar, punching away the Montreal shot to keep it 2-1 for RSL.
Garcia got RSL and himself what was needed in injury time. The Colombian, headstrong into a 3-on-2 fast break with Javier Morales as they neared the Montreal penalty box, took a no-look pass from the outside of Morales' foot that whizzed into space behind a Montreal defender.
Garcia took one touch and fired a rocket across his body, ripping a low-lying howitzer past the Montreal goalkeeper, tucking the ball with venom inside the far post for a 3-1 lead.
Garcia had finally shaken out of his slump, a bugaboo dating back to last year--the last time the Colombian scored in a Real Salt Lake uniform. His two goals on Thursday were instrumental in not only wriggling free of his own issues, but also giving RSL three critical points in a tight Western Conference race.
“He was fantastic – threatening and quality. The two goals were world-class. The final ball to him was fantastic. It’s what we want from him. He gave a fantastic performance, and he also worked very hard on the defensive end. Just a great night from him," RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said post-game.
The whistle blew two minutes later and RSL had again won on a holiday, giving the club two wins in four matches this July--each of which came during a national or state celebration.