[MLS] For the third straight time, Real Salt Lake beat Rocky Mountain Cup rival Colorado, 1-0, with a late goal, but this time it appears the officials may have been the decisive influence.
Fabian Espindola poked a ball over the goal line during a scramble in the 93rd minute to end a rugged, intense match between the last two MLS Cup winners. Espindola led a charge of players trying to reach a carom off the leg of Paulo Araujo Jr., who had knocked toward goal the rebound of a Javier Morales free kick that struck the post.
Espindola was ahead of the ball in the six-yard box when Araujo Jr. touched it, and thus was offside, for only keeper Matt Pickens was between him and the goal line. He’d been twice denied earlier in the match on a fine Pickens save and when the flag correctly went up; this time, it stayed down. He raced toward midfield in celebration as a crowd of 15,513 roared and the Rapids stared at the wet, rutted ground on which they’d quelled RSL for much of the 90 minutes.
Rather than risk a dinged-up Anthony Wallace, Coach Gary Smith moved Drew Moor to left back, and paired Marvell Wynne with veteran Tyrone Marshall in the middle. They subdued Alvario Saborio -- whose poor form sparked the inclusion of Araujo Jr. at his expense in the 69th minute -- and also stepped out to shrink the space in which playmaker Javier Morales likes to operate.
The Colorado attack, missing Conor Casey because of injury, sputtered as Caleb Folan labored to link up with or spring loose Omar Cummings, who also was substituted. His replacement, Quincy Amarikwa, lasted just five minutes before suffering an injury that forced him off and brought on Sanna Nyassi.
Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz played centrally with Jamie Smith, who replaced the injured Pablo Mastroeni. Colorado clogged the middle while also monitoring the forward runs of outside backs Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, and the floating moves of Andy Williams, to limit RSL to just eight shots. Two of them were close-range headers from Morales serves by central defensive partners Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave, but both missed the target.
Sharp, gusting winds affected both teams’ offensive flow, as did a cold rain that began to fall during the match. Referee Baldomero Toledo issued just three cautions as players tried to keep their feet and their heads in slippery, combative encounters. Field players came up with two of the biggest defensive plays; Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan tracked back to strip away a ball from Beltran just as he was about to serve it into a goal area flooded with RSL shirts, and Wingert stuck out a foot to block a Smith shot headed for the net.
Perkins’ stop of Espindola was his only official save of the night; RSL counterpart Nick Rimando recorded three saves, and thwarted Colorado’s best opportunity when he stretched from the near post to cut out a dangerous low ball from Nyassi with Folan waiting in the goalmouth.
The victory maintains a perfect start to the season for RSL (4-0-0), which departs Sunday morning on a charter flight to Mexico, where it plays Monterrey in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions’ League finals on Wednesday. Colorado (3-2-0) lost its second straight match and has eight days off until it plays at Seattle April 22.
Real Salt Lake 1, Colorado 0. Goal: Espindola (Araujo Jr.) 93+.
RSL -- Rimando, Wingert, Olave, Borchers, Beltran, Williams, Beckerman, Morales, Grabavoy, Saborio (Araujo Jr., 69), Espindola.
Colorado -- Pickens, Kimura, Wynne, Marshall, Moor, Mullan, Smith (Akpan, 86), Larentowicz, Thompson, Cummings (Amarikwa, 64; Nyassi, 69), Folan.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo.