Mar 17, 2018; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake players celebrate a goal scored on a penalty kick shot by midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) against the New York Red Bulls during the first half at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
SANDY, Utah — It’s a good thing Real Salt Lake likes to call itself a snow team.
On the heels of a rather embarrassing 5-1 home loss to LAFC last weekend, RSL (1-1-1, 4 points) wanted to give fans the type of performance it deserved — and the team delivered. Thanks to an early penalty kick from Albert Rusnák in the 4th minute, RSL jumped on top early and never looked back on the way to a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls (1-1-0, 3 points) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
A meager announced crowd of 16,334 braved the cold weather. The snow did, however, add some fire to RSL’s mindset. When Rusnák saw the snowfall earlier in the day, he anticipated a win.
“I had a feeling, you know, it’s going to be us,” Rusnák said. “To be fair today, it was probably good that it snowed.”
Rusnák’s goal didn’t seal the win for RSL — veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando did. Rimando had a vintage performance, finishing the night with four saves to assure Salt Lake three points.
RSL head coach Mike Petke was not only tasked with rectifying his team’s poor performance from last week, but he also had to coach against his former squad. Petke played for the Red Bulls (2009-10), served as an assistant (2011-12) and was New York’s head coach (2013-15).
But he wasn’t concerned about that. His three years of therapy helped subdue the sting of being fired, he joked after the game.
He also wasn’t concerned with playing a perfect game. The only thing that concerned Petke was that the team returned to its normal self, which he didn’t think would be too difficult.
Petke watched last week’s loss four times, something he has never done before. It allowed him to see glimpses of solid play from his squad.
“I didn’t care about how this game looked as far as beautiful or pretty,” Petke said. “This was about getting back to everybody working together, committing themselves to get back, defensive transition, and it didn’t matter how it looked at the end of the day. It was a great three points. It was a great response from our guys, and I’m proud of them.”
Not even five minutes into the game, David Horst was fouled in the penalty box during an RSL free kick, and Rusnák was given the green light. With a late changeup to drive the ball slightly left center and a soft kick, he placed the ball in the back of the net.
“Before I took it and even before the game … in my head I was thinking, ‘If there’s a PK, I want it no matter what,’” Rusnák said. “I was pretty sure I wanted to go down the middle, I had a second thought when I dropped the ball, [but] I decided to go down the middle.”
Rimando came up big with two crucial saves and one block in the 26th and 27th minutes, as the Red Bulls were on the attack.
In the 37th minute, Damir Kreilach was issued a yellow card for a bad foul, but it only seemed to ignite a fire in RSL as the team has some great ball movement toward the end of the half. In the 40th minute, Justen Glad put himself in scoring position when Rusnák played the ball in the middle of the box, but Glad’s header was wide left. Two minutes later, Jefferson Savarino’s shot was saved in the center of the goal.
In the 66th minute, Sebastián Saucedo went down with an injury, though he did walk off the field on his own volition. As a result, Corey Baird was subbed in as he made his first Major League Soccer debut.
Real Salt Lake had a few chances to ice the game with a second goal, and even though the team couldn’t find the back of the net, it did a decent job of maintaining possession to eliminate the opportunity for a Red Bull equalizer.
All in all, Petke is glad his team can move forward as RSL doesn’t take the pitch until Friday March 30, on the road against Toronto FC.