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Controversial penalty secures Real Salt Lake’s victory over Vancouver Whitecaps

Mar 9, 2019; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach (8) and Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) celebrate a goal on a penalty kick during the first half against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake has a history of hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps during heavy snowfall, and another snowball match was anticipated for Saturday night. But thanks to the help of many of the announced 17,096 in attendance, who came down to help clear the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium, the game kicked off on a green pitch.

Caps coach Marc Dos Santos wanted to focus on short passes and possession for this match. While the Whitecaps had the first chance — Hwang In-Beom with a volley from the edge of the box in the fifth minute — Real Salt Lake held the majority of possession in the first 20 minutes, scored in the 21st minute and held on for a 1-0 victory.

Real Salt Lake had 57 percent possession and also led the Caps in shots 3-2 before the goal. The Claret and Cobalt also seemed more dangerous going forward.

The penalty came when Corey Baird appeared to be taken down in the box by Jake Nerwinski.

Replays showed Nerwinski never touched Baird, but the call stood. Albert Rusnák stepped up and hammered the ball across the line for what ended up being the game-winner. 

Wrongly called or not, the penalty goal was a confidence booster for Real Salt Lake, and the Utah side began to play exactly the sort of soccer Dos Santos had envisioned for his Caps ahead of the game.  

For most of the first half, Real Salt Lake had 52 percent of possession and completed 85 percent of passes. The Caps struggled to complete their passes to start the game, but as the first half progressed, they grew into the game and began to play with more creativity up front.

In the 52nd minute, Yordy Reyna curled the ball from the edge of the box just wide of Nick Rimando’s goal. Then in the 68th minute, defender Doneil Henry, who had joined the rush, tested Rimando with a thundering header after a cross from Reyna. Finally, Joaquín Ardaíz had Rimando beat from a tight angle in the 79th minute, but his shot went wide. 

Playing a higher press, however, also meant Real Salt Lake now had opportunities to hit the Caps on the counter. In the 60th minute, Maxime Crépeau had to be on his guard rushing out of his penalty area to stop a breakaway attempt by Rusnak. Then in the 77th minute, Rusnak, who was Real Salt Lake’s most industrious player, saw a volley go just wide of the goal. 

 

Both sides had chances to score going into the final 10 minutes. Korean star Hwang In-beom seemed to have scored a decisive goal in the 81st minute, when his curled effort from 18 yards had Rimando beat, but the ball kissed the top of the netting instead.

It was agonizingly close for the Whitecaps. But the same can be said for Real Salt Lake. In the 86th minute, Crépeau stretched to make a fantastic stop following a close-range Damir Kreilach header, and then was also on guard in the 87th minute, making a stop of a Rusnak attempt from inside the box.

Real Salt Lake may not have scored from those clear-cut chances, but it did not matter. The home team managed to keep a clean sheet and hang on to all three points. 

Lineups

Real Salt Lake (4-2-3-1)

Rimando – Herrera, Onuoha, Silva, Lennon – Luiz, Rusnak, Beckerman – Baird (Johnson, 65′), Kreilach (Besler, 88′), Savarino (Saucedo, 76′)

Vancouver Whitecaps (4-3-3)

Crépeau – PC (Sutter, 45′), Henry, Godoy, Nerwinski – In-beom, Erice (Ardaíz, 70′), Rose – Reyna, Montero, Venuto (Lass, 60′)

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