RSL fans had flashbacks of Real Salt Lake days gone by as the club ended the Union’s four-game winning streak with the 1-0 victory at home.
It was a sight to behold for fans attending the cross-conference match against the Philadelphia Union. Philly came to the RioT having won their last four matches and being unbeaten in their last six, but RSL set the tone early on. The match was arguably RSL’s best performance of the year, and several players had breakout performances.
The three-headed monster of Joao Plata, Albert Rusnák, and Jefferson Savarino put together another thrilling performance, and the team worked together to earn a shutout against a Philly side who have averaged almost three goals a game in their unbeaten run. Here’s what stood out from the match.
Man of the match Joao Plata looked like the 2014 Plata who took the league by storm. Joao ended up with the only goal of the match but was a force for 90 minutes. One series, in particular, highlighted Plata’s overall performance. Plata ‘megged Union captain Alejandro Bedoya before splitting two defenders. Joao then passed it off to Luke Mulholland, who’s cheeky turn forced Oguchi Onyewu into a professional foul and a dangerous free kick.
The move was nice, and Plata made similar runs throughout the day, but what happened afterward showed his impact, while standing out less. Philadelphia immediately countered off the free-kick, with freshly subbed on Roland Alberg leading the break. Plata quickly chased down Alberg, forcing him all the way to the end lineup before dispossessing him. Joao then found Rusnák, who started the RSL counter. Plata quickly overlapped before receiving the ball just below the 18-yard box and cutting back into the middle and finding Rusnák again, whose shot was blocked.
This series was just a blip and lasted less than a minute, but Plata went end line to end line at full speed, preventing a goalscoring opportunity for the Union before creating one with RSL. More impressively, it all happened in the 73rd minute of the match, when some players run out of gas. This is the Plata we’ve all been hoping and waiting for.
Filling in for the suspended Kyle Beckerman, Sunny bossed the middle and made the Union midfielders miserable all afternoon. Early into the match, Sunny found himself in the middle of a Philly counter. He stayed between Chris Pontius and CJ Sapong with no help anywhere close to him and forced Pontius into a poor cross that Sunny was able to clear, preventing a one-on-one opportunity for Sapong against Rimando.
Sunny completed just under 83% of his passes on the day as he linked play out of the back into the midfield, but his four interceptions are where he made the most impact. His performance was a breath of fresh air for RSL fans, as Real has struggled this season in matches missed by Kyle Beckerman.
Real Salt Lake is finally getting close to full health. Tony Beltran made his return to the first team, going 90 minutes along with Aaron Maund, Chris Schuler, and Chris Wingert. The back line did well in holding the potent Union attack to just four shots on goal. Aaron Maund made one play in particular that stood out early in the match.
It was a great hustle play by Maund, which ended up being the difference in the match. The defense’s great play was accented by the efforts of the attack to get back and defend. In the post game, Rusnák shared his thoughts on the team’s performance and their play defensively.
That’s the nicest win I think in football. To win 1-0, maybe ideal is 2 or 3, but 1-0 is the perfect win. It’s 3 points, it’s a cleat sheet, it’s a goal scored. We had more chances to score but today was about the hard work we put in and the 3 points, that’s it… I think it was the best performance from us as a team you know. Not just attackingly but also defensibly. It was the most, uh, everything was above good. So yes, to do that at home and to get the three points after a tough lost last week in Seattle, it feels great. We have a game coming up on Wednesday so it will lift our confidence and we are looking forward to the next game.
It really was one the best performances Real have had all season, if not in recent years. The club now has the quick turnaround to face a dangerous Houston Dynamo team on the road Wednesday. As Albert said, RSL will look to build off their performance as they move forward to their next match.