Apr 21, 2018; Sandy, UT, USA; Referee Joseph Dickerson signals for Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) to stand back during the first half against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
SANDY, Utah — It may have taken Real Salt Lake (3-3-1, 10 points) 80 minutes to score against a team down a player most of the match, but RSL eventually took advantage of a depleted and exhausted Colorado Rapids (2-2-2, 8 points) squad Saturday to win 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
When Colorado’s star goalkeeper Tim Howard was sent off in the 20th minute, it seemed as if Real Salt Lake had it made. The home team wasn’t going to have to face a U.S. men’s national team legend in the net and the Rapids were going to be down a man for the next 70 minutes. Yet it wasn’t all that easy to get on the board.
Colorado’s backup keeper, Zac MacMath, stepped up in a huge way for the visitors, playing a solid game up until the final 15 minutes. But an errant Rapids handball in the box gave RSL the perfect opportunity to take control. And RSL head coach Mike Petke was happy the referee made use of the fourth official as he frantically tried to get someone to review the play.
“Game after game there [are] a number of things off the ball that perhaps the ref doesn’t see and I would like the fourth official to maybe alert him,” Petke said. “But as far as the VAR usage tonight with the handball, yes I was trying to get his attention to make sure they were going to look at that.”
As a result, Joao Plata netted his third goal of the season by converting the ensuing penalty kick in the 82nd minute. In the following 10 minutes, Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnák scored their own goals — and Colorado was out of gas.
“When you’re playing a team that’s a man down, they’re sitting deep,” Petke said. “You got to move the ball quick side to side to create those gaps or eventually a gap will create [itself], and eventually we saw a lot of 2-v-1s on the right side.”
This was exactly what Real Salt Lake needed after it got throttled 4-0 on the road against NYCFC on Wednesday.
Things were pretty even-keeled to start the game as neither team had any promising looks. Then, Jefferson Savarino had open field ahead of him and fired a shot as Howard rushed out of the box to stop him. Howard successfully thwarted the attack but was issued a red card for a handball, much to the joy of the announced 17,461 fans in attendance.
RSL, however, wasn’t able to capitalize on any close attempts immediately after MacMath assumed the goalkeeper position, and the teams entered the locker rooms at halftime tied 0-0. Petke mentioned it was a little stressful that his team wasn’t able to take advantage of a 10-man squad.
“We came out a little over excited perhaps at the moment, but then when things settled down, confidence grew a bit,” Petke said. “Halftime there was no negativity whatsoever, it was all positive, [and] we made a couple of adjustments.”
Kreilach’s strike eight minutes after Plata’s penalty was his first MLS goal. Rusnák’s final goal cae off a set piece to seal the deal at 3-0.
“After the New York City games, we wanted to make today something special and we did it,” Kreilach said.
The team’s not where Petke wants it to be, though. He can’t help but think what would have happened if a red card was never given to Howard, but he’ll take some time to reflect once everything settles and he’ll make sure his team is ready for Vancouver next weekend.
“None of us are where we want to be right now,” Petke said. “But we just won 3-0 against a conference rival, which is huge for us.”