Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
BY ADAM SERRANO
Real Salt Lake came through in the clutch once more and earned a full three points on the road Saturday with a 2-1 victory against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center.
A Fabian Espindola goal in the 89th minute was the difference as the defending champions stretched their winning streak to four games. Capitalizing off a defensive miscue by Chivas USA center back Dario Delgado, Espindola was able to gain possession and send the ball past Goal keeper Zach Thornton.
"I got the ball from the defender and I sprinted in front of the goal keeper and put the ball to the far post," said Espindola. "It was nice to get the goal and after being injured for three weeks, I'm happy to get this result."
The goal was the culmination in a very effective game plan by Jason Kreis' men against Chivas. Although Real Salt Lake lost the services of captain Kyle Beckerman early in the first half due to a left foot sprain, the team remained resilient. The club earned possession early and forced Chivas USA to absorb pressure in their own half, but were unable to create many chances.
Despite earning the lionshare of the possession in the first half, Real Salt Lake put pressure on the Rojiblancos back line, but were not unable to break through until the 45th minute when Chris Wingert fired in his first MLS goal ending a seven year or 147 game drought for the defender.
"It was a long time coming and its embarrassing to say that its my first one, but I'm excited to get one under my belt," said Wingert. "I told the guys that I hope that I don't have to wait seven more years in between goals."
For Chivas USA, the club was feeling the pain of playing without co-captains Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan. The offense struggled to assert itself early and was unable to capitalize on the few chances that the team had while going forward. For all the issues, the Rojiblancos nearly stole a point after a spectacular effort by forward Justin Braun in the 80th minute.
Marked by two Real Salt Lake defenders, the forward was able to turn and shoot the ball into the top left corner of Nick Rimando's net and give the Rojiblancos a tie that would not last. The loss marks the second time in two matches that Chivas USA gave way what seemed like a sure point.
"It hurts obviously, I'd be lying if I said it was just a good learning experience, its tough but we need to figure out a way to keep playing and take away these mistakes," said midfielder Blair Gavin. "It's tough to be playing well and lose a game late and just end up empty handed a lot."
Throughout the match much of the focus was on the play of Gavin as the rookie was placed in slot behind the striker vacated by Sacha Kljestan who was away on international duty. Faced with a new challenge, the midfielder struggled to put his stamp on the game early due to the physical play of Real Salt Lake.
As the game wore on however, the midfielder and the team were able to put increased pressure on the Salt Lake net, which culminated with the goal by Braun. Although the club continued to send numbers forward once again it was a late defensive mistake that gave vital points away. The fact that the Rojiblancos suffered a defensive lapse near the end of the match was not lost on head coach Martin Vasquez, who was quick to offer his displeasure.
""I'm unhappy that right after we tied the game, we had a lapse in concentration," said Vasquez. "We played better in the second half, but we lost our focus in the 89th minute just like last week and we lost the game."
With the loss, Chivas USA falls to 3-6-1 on the season and will now look to rebound against the struggling D.C. United on Saturday. The defending champions go to 5-3-1 and will return home to Rio Tinto Stadium to face the Kansas City Wizards and attempt to stretch their winning streak to five games.
Although many have been keen to elevate Real Salt Lake to the level of the league's best along with the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Columbus Crew, head coach Jason Kreis was blunt with his assessment of where Real Salt Lake ranks in the league at this moment.
"I think we're third right now," said Kreis. "They both have more points than us right now so that's what I think."