RSL KEEP SHIELD HOPES ALIVE
Real Salt Lake clinched a spot in the top two spots in the Western Conference, after defeating Chivas USA 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium Wednesday night.
A penalty strike from Costa Rican international Álvaro Saborio in the 48th minute, and Joao Plata tallied another to keep Real Salt Lake's Supporters Shield hopes alive.
Some bad news came for Real Salt Lake in just the ninth minute of the game, when right back Lovel Palmer went down with a left hamstring injury. He was replaced by Tony Beltran, who hadn't played in three weeks.
Moments later, in the 16th minute, Chivas midfielder Eric Avila raced free down the right wing, and sent in a cross to Erick Torres. The ball found Torres perfectly, but his header was well saved by Nick Rimando.
"If he makes it, it's a different game," described defender Carlos Bocanegra.
The teams entered halftime scoreless, with both teams sharing chances, but not able to break the deadlock.
Both of Real Salt Lake central defenders, Chris Schuler and Nat Borchers entered halftime carrying yellow cards, and without any defenders left on the bench due to the injury to Palmer.
Just after the break, a handball was called on Chivas defender Mario de Luna after an attempted pass from Joao Plata to forward Álvaro Saborío. The Costa Rican stepped up and slotted the penalty home past keeper Tim Melia, who was playing in lieu of regular starter Dan Kennedy.
Real Salt Lake kept the pressure up, and Joao Plata tallied another in the 52nd minute. Plata made a slicing run at the top of the 18, and attempted to pass to a cutting Javier Morales who was cutting into the box. The ball ricocheted off a defender directly into the path of Plata, who curled his shot into the left side of the net.
Chivas got a goal back in the 77th minute from substitute forward Julio Morales. Fellow sub Carlo Chueca played a beautiful through ball towards Morales, who got behind the defense and chipped past Rimando to draw Chivas one goal closer.
Real Salt Lake was able to hold on to and seal up a top two finish in the Western Conference.
The result placed Real Salt Lake temporarily in first place, pending the result between Portland and Chivas USA on Saturday.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we had a chance to make it to the play in game, I would've taken it in a heartbeat," said Jason Kreis following the match. "It speaks to the team, they give it all for each other."
Chivas head coach Jose Luis Real was pleased with the way his team played on the road. "The most important victory for Chivas USA today was that we came out and played against a good opponent," Real described after the match. "The players had a good attitude and answer after going down. The attitude of the team was very positive."
Defender Carlos Bocanegra added, "The level of play was a lot higher, it was a huge improvement from the last two weeks. I thought we were organized pretty good."
Chivas now return home to play their season finale against Portland, who can clinch the top seed in the West with a victory.
Real Salt Lake will sit anxiously await their playoff opponent, having played their last regular season game.