LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane stepped up to the penalty spot to take the kick in the dying minutes -- awarded after a Real Salt Lake player was whistled for a controversial hand ball inside the penalty area by a replacement referee.
That the hand ball didn’t even take place was immaterial. Replays clearly showed that the player nearest the red-white Adidas Brazuca ball was actually Galaxy forward Rob Friend who stuck out his 6-4 frame near the ball as it continued floating past him -- striking neither of his over-sized digits in the process.
Keane essentially got a gift on this penalty kick, one he bent towards Real Salt Lake goalie Nick Rimando’s far post. But Rimando was up to the task, leaping to his right as far as he could -- saving the kick and preserving RSL’s 1-0 win on Saturday, March 8 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
Real Salt Lake (1-0) gave Cassar his first win as a head coach in Major League Soccer with Rimando’s diving save. But as even Rimando would point out, it wasn’t just him and his nine saves -- most of which bordered on spectacular -- that saved the day.
“Appreciate all the kind words but lets not forget all the hard work defensively the TEAM put in to get a result against a very good LA side,“ Rimando tweeted after the game.
Rimando was right; RSL used unknown Aaron Maund at center back -- replacing an injured Chris Schuler. Maund was effective, stymieing Keane and new forward Jerome, another in a long line of one-name Brazilian imports who dribble the ball too much and look good -- but are ineffective nonetheless in Major League Soccer.
LA’s vaunted counter-attack was stifled, time and again, by Maund -- a 6-foot-1-inch Notre Dame product from the fighting Boston suburb of Dorchester and a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago. The Galaxy had 21 shots to RSL’s eight -- yet it was the defense of Maund and RSL that did the talking, along with Rimando.
Maund had played in just 18 MLS games prior to his start Saturday. But he, Nicky, the RSL defense and a Joao Plata goal in the 80th minute stood up to give Cassar his first win -- this after Luke Mulholland's rebound goal was disallowed in the 75th for no apparent reason.
This win also gave RSL fans early hope when everyone in Major League Soccer, including its own Web site, predicted RSL would finish no better than third in the West -- and when no one, not even Sports Illustrated would dare suppose this RSL team had a chance to lift the MLS Cup this year.