By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah. -Once again the smallest man on the pitch produced the biggest moment of the match and spurred Real Salt Lake to a series sweep.
RSL came back from a one-goal deficit, scoring three unanswered goals in the span of four minutes before adding a fourth immediately before the halftime whistle and another after the break to bury the Rapids, 5-1, in front of a capacity crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Goals came quickly and ferociously for the home side with Joao Plata opening the deluge in 32nd minute after receiving a backheel pass from midfielder Ned Grabavoy. RSL’s leading scorer took a touch and blasted a perfect shot into the upper 90, giving Rapids goalkeeper Joe Nasco no chance.
“That’s his shot,” midfielder Grabavoy said, describing Plata’s goal. “Heading that way and bending that ball to the back post, is his bread and butter. He’s been doing it all season. It was a great finish. Unbelieveable finish.”
Midfielder Luke Mulholland expressed that RSL was able to take advantage of another team letting up after scoring.
“When we go 1-0 up sometimes we take our foot off the gas and then they come at us,” Mulholland said. “So I think that helped us being 1-0 down, [we] turned it back up and the floodgates just opened.”
Morales added one of his own just one minute later, looping an impressive corner kick into the back of the net with the assistance of what appeared to be a deflection from the Colorado defense.
RSL never came close to relinquishing the lead.
Chris Schuler made it three when he took advantage of a mishandled free kick and “stomached” the ball in from close range.
The Rapids made things worse in the 45th minute when goalkeeper Joe Nasco added to RSL’s tally, scoring an own goal after a beautiful passing sequence between Morales and newcomer Sebastian Jaime threatened the defense.
The match didn’t start off that grim for the visitors as they actually got on the board first through a beautiful long-range strike from Jose Mari.
The Spanish midfielder had time to chest the ball, size up his chance and blast a low shot from distance at the net after a blocked shot feel to him about 30 yards out. The ball curled considerably and it appeared as if RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando saw it late. Mari’s shot slipped into the goal giving the Rapids the lead in the 21st minute.
The second half became a glorified scrimmage however as RSL played with the confidence of a team that had plenty of cushion. Young defender, Carlos Salcedo, even logged the first goal of his fledgling career in the 63rd minute.
Nasco mishandled another ball into the box, this time a corner from Morales, and Salcedo was there to pounce. The former RSL Academy player calmly waited for the ball to settle before blasting it home to give the home side the 5-1 lead.
It clearly wasn’t Nasco’s night and RSL head coach Jeff Cassar sympathized with the Rapids goalkeeper.
“Joe’s a big competitor,” Cassar said. “It’s just one of those nights. He made some fantastic saves to keep his team in it. But, when you apply pressure to teams so much at some point the dam is gonna break.”
Cassar credited Plata for keying the turnaround after the Rapids put one into the back of the net.
“He’s been fantastic all year,” Cassar said. “He’s been quality all year. It was a great build up, great little combination play. It was fun to watch. I mean at the end of the day I’m sitting there just clapping because I really enjoyed watching that.”
“He’s our best player,” Grabavoy added. “He’s our best soccer player. I think everybody probably has a different view but he’s our best soccer player. What else can I say?”