SANDY, Utah (AP) – Alvaro Saboria and Fabian Espindola have been a potent 1-2 punch for Real Salt Lake in recent years.
Saturday night was no different as they each scored in a 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The two now have a combined 54 goals for Real Salt Lake, with Espindola’s 29th goal tying him with former standout Robbie Findley for Real Salt Lake’s all-time lead in MLS goals scored.
“Both those guys were extremely alert and bright tonight,” Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said. “I’m pleased that they both got on the scoreboard but probably more pleased with the defensive effort. The number of times they came back to help us was critical.”
Real Salt Lake (5-1-0), alone atop the Western Conference standings, extended its unbeaten streak against the Rapids (3-2-0) to seven games, with its last loss in the series coming in May 2009.
The win gave Salt Lake a leg up in its bid to keep the Rocky Mountain Cup for a sixth straight season. They will play two more times this season.
“This was a rivalry started by the fans and they did a terrific job of selling it to the players,” said Kreis, who also was facing former Dallas teammate and current Colorado coach Oscar Pareja.
The intensity was there from the start, with five yellow cards issued.
“The players were up for it. The crowd was up for it,” Kreis said.
Now Real Salt Lake has to get ready for an even bigger match. Saturday’s win sets up a showdown next week with undefeated Sporting Kansas City, which beat defending champion Los Angeles earlier in the day.
Defender Nat Borchers said it was too early to call next week’s game a preview of the MLS Cup.
“I don’t know if we can build it up quite to that level yet. There’s a lot of soccer left. But I l like the matchup,” Borchers said. “They play a very good brand of soccer. They send a lot of numbers forward. They’re a lot like us.”
Real Salt Lake dominated Saturday’s game from the start, controlling possession in the first half by nearly a 2-1 margin and holding a 9-1 edge in shots early.
Saborio’s goal in the 20th minute gave Real Salt Lake a 1-0 lead. Will Johnson set up the score by occupying two defenders, then passing to Tony Beltran, who found Saborio in the middle. Saborio controlled the cross with his chest then got behind Colorado’s back line and scored from 10 yards out.
Real Salt Lake improved to 22-3-5 overall when Saborio scores.
“That was one of the top 10 RSL performances for 45 minutes,” Kreis told his team at halftime. “But nobody’s going to remember that if you don’t walk out after 90 minutes with a win.”
Espindola made sure of it, scoring in the 57th minutes despite a questionable hand ball. He took a long pass from Luis Gil and sneaked between two Colorado defenders and poked the shot past Matt Pickens.
“It was so fast, then the ball was there,”said Espindola, who a year ago helped RSL retained its fifth consecutive Rocky Mountain Cup with a controversial stoppage-time goal at home.
The win helped Real Salt Lake move on from an ugly 1-0 victory against lowly Montreal on Wednesday.
“The guys all knew Wednesday night was a disappointing match,” Kreis said. “They all wanted to do better.”
They’ll also need to play better than they did last year in Kansas City.
“Kansas City is very complete team.,” Borchers said. “It will be a tough one but we’re looking forward to it. It’s a tough place to play. We have to stay organized and play good soccer.”
– By LYNN DeBRUIN, AP Sports Writer
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