A night of firsts as RSL claim top of the West

Posted on 14 July 2008 by Patrick McShane

Nunez keeps his eye on the prize ©ASN/Julia Fizer

Saturday night was a night of firsts for Real Salt Lake as they rolled to an impressive 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew. RSL rookie striker Tino Nuñez notched his first professional start in the MLS as he formed a surprise starting strike team with Yura Movsisyan. Defensive midfielder Nathan Sturgis saw his first minutes of action since injuring his hamstring on April 19 against Toronto FC by entering the match with one-minute left in regulation. But most important to the team and their supporters is the fact that RSL catapulted into first place in the Western Conference for the first time in team history

The Crew entered the match enjoying a four match unbeaten streak and looked poised to steal the first win of the season on RSL’s home turf of Rice-Eccles Stadium. On the other hand, RSL were still reeling from a draw at home the previous week to the Houston Dynamo in a match that yielded six yellow cards as well as the ejection of RSL defender Chris Wingert late in the match. This meant that outside of the new look strike pairing, RSL would also be starting a makeshift defense on the wings.

Because of these changes, one wouldn’t fault RSL if they had started the match unorganized and sluggish. However, few could predict that RSL would be holding a 1-0 lead and be in firm control of the match after just four minutes. While stellar midfielder Javier Morales is not typically known as a goal scorer, he is well known for his technique with free kicks and one could feel the anticipation from the 12,378 fans in attendance as he stepped up to take a kick Movsisyan had earned at the top of the box. While Morales didn’t strike the kick as effectively as he might have wanted, he did not disappoint as he drove the ball in-between two Crew defenders to the right of a diving William Hesmer.

Despite the early goal, the Crew could have easily passed it off as a fluke occurrence and taken control of the match. However, the emotional response needed never happened and RSL continued to control possession and repeatedly attack a flustered Crew back line beyond the best efforts of defender Chad Marshall. In fact, it was the size and strength of Marshall versus the smaller strike tandem of Nuñez & Movsisyan that prohibited RSL from extending their lead before half. In return, the Crew had only a handful of opportunities for the remainder of the half, mostly in the form of corner kicks and by means of both dangerous and wildly errant crosses.

Hejduk and Marshall make a Movsisyan sandwich ©ASN/Julia Fizer

Though it appeared that RSL had control of the match, they struggled to find a second goal to push themselves to safety. This inability almost came to haunt them in the 50th minute when Argentine midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto collected a poor clearance about thirty yards out from goal and riffled a shot beyond the outstretched arms of keeper Nick Rimando. Unfortunately for the Crew, Schelotto’s shot ricocheted off of the left post and was cleared out of bounds. This chance would be the last close call for Columbus and signaled a significant change in the flow of the match.

With approximately 20 minutes left in the match, RSL had completely realigned their attack, replacing both Nuñez and Movsisyan for usual starters Robbie Findley and Kenny Deuchar. These changes had an immediate impact as Findley utilized his speed against a tired Crew defense, while Deuchar began to manhandle a now tired Marshall. This new combination in attack paid off in the 78th minute when Deuchar headed on a lob pass from Morales to a speeding Findley. Knocking the ball past Hesmer as he came out to collect, Findley hardly took a moment to drill the ball into the back of the net despite Danny O’Rourke’s diving tackle. It appeared that the tactic implemented by RSL coach Jason Kreis paid off just as planned, as confirmed by Findley after the match. “That is the whole point. Jason [Kreis] said they were going to bring us (Findley and Deuchar) on late when they were tired, and it ended up in a goal.”

RSL will have little time to enjoy this win and they now begin a lengthy road schedule with four of their next six matches in hostile territory. If RSL want to make this first visit to the top of the Western Conference a lengthy stay, they need to focus on improving their road performance and stealing points whenever possible. If captain Kyle Beckerman’s post-match sentiments speak for his squad, one would think they’d look particularly formidable. “Right now is not the most important time to be in first place. That is going to be at the end of the year. We wanted to be in this position since the start of the season, and to get there is a big feat. We just need to keep going and keep learning and keep getting better as a team.”

{democracy:17}

Match Facts

Scoring Summary:
RSL — Javier Morales 3 (unassisted) 4
RSL — Robbie Findley 4 (Kenny Deuchar 1) 78

Columbus Crew — William Hesmer, Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall, Danny O’Rourke, Ryan Junge (Stefani Miglioranzi 56), Emmanuel Ekpo (Duncan Oughton 51), Brian Carroll, Brad Evans, Robbie Rogers, Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Steven Lenhart 70), Alejandro Moreno.

Real Salt Lake — Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Ian Joy, Andy Williams (Nathan Sturgis 89), Dema Kovalenko, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Yura Movsisyan (Robbie Findley 64), Tino Nunez (Kenny Deuchar 69).

Misconduct Summary:
CLB — Duncan Oughton (caution; Reckless Foul) 65
RSL — Kyle Beckerman (caution; Reckless Foul) 78
RSL — Tony Beltran (caution; Reckless Foul) 81
RSL — Nat Borchers (caution; Reckless Foul) 90

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