By KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, Calif.—Real Salt Lake didn’t look like a team that had only played one MLS game in 35 days on Saturday night. They traveled to Los Angeles looking for a little revenge on Chivas USA, the only team to have beaten them at Rio Tinto this season. They got it, taking down the Rojiblancos 3-0.
A brace from Fabian Espindola and a solid defensive effort gave RSL their 10th win of the season, and increased their lead atop the Western Conference.
The long stretch of time off seemed to give an already strong RSL a boost, especially Espindola.
“I’ve been training well this mini-vacation, we had a good mini pre-season and I think that was good for us, for the entire team,” Espindola said after the win.
For Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser, the game was full of missed opportunities and critical errors.
“We have to be able to execute, and tonight we didn’t execute in the attacking end. We took stretches of possession and didn’t turn them into dangerous chances,” Fraser said. “At the end, we just became the victim of our own mistakes.”
Coming into the match, RSL looked to keep their six MLS game unbeaten streak rolling, while the Rojiblancos had a four-game unbeaten streak of their own they were trying to maintain.
Chivas USA found a good rhythm early, and had a few chances on net, but were unable to make good on any of their opportunities. After 20 minutes, RSL started to find their flow. In the 35th minute, Alvaro Saborio slipped in behind the Chivas defense, and put the ball calmly into the back of the net—only to find that he was whistled offside. The replay seemed to show otherwise, but RSL would get their goal not long after.
In the 41st minute, Kyle Beckerman swung a long ball into the box, where a streaking Espindola rose above the Chivas USA defense to head it past Dan Kennedy. RSL had been pressing for the latter portion of the second half, and it finally paid off as they took at 1-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Chivas came out of the break pushing hard for the equalizer. It nearly came in the 50th minute when Juan Pablo Angel made a run down the left flank, beat his defender and got a cross off into the box. It was Nick Rimando to the rescue, as the RSL keeper made a great save to keep the Rojiblancos from equalizing.
As close as Chivas came to getting on the scoreboard, it was RSL who notched the next goal. In the 54th minute, Ned Grabavoy played a perfect ball through to Espindola, who smoked Rauwshan McKenzie on the right edge of the box. He powered it past Kennedy, giving RSL a 2-0 lead early in the second half.
Just three minutes later, the visitors nearly made it 3-0. In the 57th minute, Alvaro Saborio got in behind the Chivas defense, and was one on one with Kennedy. Instead of ripping a shot, he decided to try and dribble around Kennedy, but his touch was too heavy and he pushed it over the end line.
The final 30 minutes, RSL maintained most of the possession, with the Rojiblancos struggling to find a way back into the game. Chivas had a few solid chances on goal in the final few minutes of the match, but Rimando came up big with a couple of clutch saves to keep the clean sheet.
In stoppage time, RSL took advantage of one of those mistakes and finished Chivas off, scoring from a smooth combination play from Kyle Beckerman to Javier Morales, ending at the feet of Will Johnson. Johnson smashed the ball past Kennedy, giving RSL a 3-0 lead in the dying minutes.
Kennedy agreed with Fraser that they were punished for every mistake made, and the loss sets Chivas back from moving up the standings and vying for a playoff position.
“Every game is another opportunity to get closer to the playoffs. We have a structure we try to follow, and it just makes these next games more important,” Kennedy said.
RSL coach Jason Kreis was beaming after the game, clearly incredibly happy with his team’s performance after such a long stretch of time off.
“The guys played probably the best match we’ve played this year. From start to finish, for me, it was the most complete match.” Kreis said. “I thought we just did an excellent job on both sides of the ball, really, really pleased that the guys showed that they appeared to be happy to be back together, and chomping at the bit for another difficult segment of our season.”
Tonight’s loss ended the Rojiblancos six game unbeaten streak in all competitions, while RSL added to theirs, making it a total of seven unbeaten in a MLS.
“It’s a great start to a three game week, but it’s a quick turnaround. We have to put this in the past quickly and get ready for Wednesday,” said captain Beckerman.
Not only does RSL have to regroup fast, but both teams have midweek games. Chivas hosts the Montreal Impact, while RSL welcomes the LA Galaxy to Rio Tinto.