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Real Salt Lake 2014: Without three key players, club defeats rival Colorado

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Even if Jason Kreis is long gone, his "team is the star" philosophy remains intact at Real Salt Lake. On Saturday, May 17 RSL was without three key players -- namely Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio. Did it matter? Not one bit as Real Salt Lake inserted three reserves and rolled to a 2-1 victory over the rival Colorado Rapids at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

RSL won the first of three games that will decide the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry. The Rapids -- now coached by World Cup veteran and longtime Rapids player Pablo Mastroeni -- played like their lives depended on the outcome, making life difficult for the hosts.

But, Real Salt Lake got on the score board first thanks to a brilliant through ball that got behind the Rapids backpedaling defense and to the feet of forward Joao Plata. Carrying great form at the moment, Plata took two touches and with his left foot pushed the ball past Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin to the far post for a 1-0 lead with 23 minutes gone.

It was Plata’s sixth goal in 11 games, tying him for the team lead with the now-departed Saborio -- who is vying for a spot with Costa Rica’s national team for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. In Saborio’s spot was Devon Sandoval, the young lion-haired striker from Albuquerque who made his presence felt in a number of ways, according to RSL head coach Jeff Cassar.

The first way was with the way he fought to win 50-50 balls from Rapids defenders. The second big play came occurred in minute 50 when Sandoval was shoved down in the penalty box as he dribbled with a heavy touch towards goal, resulting in a penalty kick for RSL.

Morales stepped towards the ball placed at the penalty spot, stutter stepped and caught Irwin going the wrong way as he slotted the Adidas Brazuca just inside the far post for a 2-0 lead.

“I thought it was a great start to the game. I thought Cole Grossman had a really mature performance [in place of Beckerman] there and sat in and held down the fort, and didn’t get caught out of position too much,“ Cassar said in his post-game press conference. “With Devon [Sandoval] his work rate was off the chart. His ability to hold up the ball and bring more of our midfield into the attack was fantastic and just to keep grinding and battling for 90 minutes really helped us out.”

As RSL’s target forward in the club’s patented diamond 4-4-2 formation, Sandoval seemed to work well. But, the play of goalkeeper Jeff Attinella -- along with a revitalized defense focused on negating the Rapids’ vaunted counterattacks -- also got the home side the full three points at Rio Tinto.

Attinella in particular made the save of the game as the Rapids caught RSL in a rare counter-attacking opportunity in the 73rd minute. Down two goals, Mastroeni substituted midfield speedster Kamani Hill for a defender, throwing caution to the wind as the Rapids sought new life.

Colorado almost got it were it not for Attinella, who first kick saved Hill’s worm burner coming from the right goal post -- then gobbled up a rebound opportunity by midfielder Diego Serna from point-blank range.

That double-save by Attinella salvaged three points for RSL -- who later allowed a header goal from a Rapids free kick in the 83rd minute. The spectacular play Attinella made, however, ensured RSL would allow nothing else on this balmy Saturday evening.

“I saw him coming in, and right when I gave up the rebound I knew somebody was coming, so I tried to get up and pretty much just lay out as best as I can, and got up late to it, which anything helps in that situation. But I was pretty fortunate that he was on a pretty tough angle too,” Attinella said at the post-game press conference.

Real Salt Lake moved to 6-0-5 overall with the win, good for second best in the Western Conference. With FC Dallas coming to town later this week, things don’t get any easier for RSL. But after Saturday’s performance you have to feel good about their prospects before the World Cup break.

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