By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE, Wa.– Fabian Espindola is a man with a lot to celebrate these days. He became a father last Friday, and his goal in the 51st minute in front of 39,312 at CenturyLink Field gave Real Salt Lake (8-3-2) a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders (7-2-1) on Saturday night.
With the goal, his 30th for Real Salt Lake, Espindola also became RSL's all-time leading scorer, a record he had shared with Robbie Findley.
Seattle had the better of the first half, but came out flat after the break.
"Second half, I thought Seattle didn't come out with as much energy as we did," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "They backed off a bit, which is something you can't do against us, and we definitely capitalized on it."
Espindola made the Sounders pay just five minutes into the second half, letting a through-ball from midfielder Luis Gil bounce once in the box before whizzing a left-footed shot past Seattle goalkeeper Bryan Meredith.
"He (Espindola) took it really, really, well," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, "and I think probably quicker than Meredith was expecting him to shoot."
Espindola stayed home with his new family while the rest of the team travelled to Chicago for a midweek match, and Kreis was confident the rest would prove beneficial.
"I knew he was going to be really bright tonight," said Kreis, "and he was just absolutely spectacular."
With first place in the Western Conference on the line Saturday night, Real Salt Lake momentarily took the upper hand in what has been a dead-even rivalry.
The teams feature two of the best records in MLS since the Sounders joined the league three seasons ago. In six regular-season matches the sides were level coming into the night at 2-2-2. Salt Lake also dismissed Seattle from the playoffs last year, prevailing 3-2 on aggregate.
After a bright first 45 minutes that saw numerous half-chances fizzle away, in the second half the Sounders looked like a team feeling the weight of playing five matches in just 15 days.
"I think the whole team in the second half showed a little bit of fatigue," said Meredith. "But I think we were on top of them most of the game. A couple chances we could have maybe put away on a different night, but tonight just wasn't our night."
With the win, Real Salt Lake padded their early lead in the standings and improved their record to 3-0-2 in its last five.
"Really, really proud of the guys," said Kreis. "I thought it was a mature performance. They were ready from the first minute."
The Sounders offense, which led MLS in scoring last season, looked to be heating up in recent weeks, with both forwards Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero finding the back of the net.
Saturday night the team failed to put a shot on frame, despite getting up eight shots.
Asked to explain his team's success against the Sounders, Kreis didn't hesitate: "We just have two of the best center backs in the league, if not the best center backs in the league. So there you have two of the best forwards in the league against two of the best center backs in the league, and on this night our guys won."
Despite the loss, the Sounders finished the busiest stretch in team history at 4-1-0 and remain in the thick of the hunt for the Supporters' Shield as most of the league nears the middle third of its schedule.
- Seattle defender Zach Scott sat with a one-game suspension for a hard tackle on FC Dallas forward Fabian Castillo.
- Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert was pulled in the 20th minute after straining his left hamstring.
- Gil got started for Javier Morales, who stayed in Utah with an injured quadricep muscle.
- Seattle has a full week of training before heading to Vancouver, BC, for its first match in the 2012 Cascadia Cup.
- RSL has two weeks off before hosting FC Dallas on Saturday, May 26th.