SANDY, Utah – Fabian Espindola played the hero for Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night, knocking home a rebound off a Javier Morales free kick two minutes from time as RSL defeated Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Colorado 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in a bruising 90-minute struggle.
The expected exciting matchup was in order early as Real Salt Lake were able to dominate the possession over the first portion of the match, while Colorado seemed poised to counterattack behind the speed of Omar Cummings and the size of Caleb Folan. But as it turned out, both teams lacked their normal sharpness and much of the game was played between the 18s.
Just one minute later, Nat Borchers had a clear header opportunity that went well wide of goal.
The best chance for the Rapids came also in the early stages as Cummings caught a break against the slower Borchers. Defender Chris Wingert did a good job of hustling back to help. Cummings laid off a nice pass to Smith who came into the picture, but Wingert responded well and got a foot on the shot attempt.
It appeared that Espíndola had broken the ice late in the first half, but he was ruled offside after knocking the ball in the net.
The second half was a back-and-forth slugfest with a great deal of strong tackles, and missed passes. Neither team created many opportunities in the half, and it appeared that the match was headed to a scoreless draw.
However, in stoppage time, another set piece goal gave the home team the victory. Morales lined up a free kick from 25 yards out. His attempt at goal hit the upright, and rebounded to Paulo Jr. who was unable to control it, but nudged it forward to Espíndola, who was able to put the ball away for the game winner.
With the victory, RSL won their fourth straight to open the season. They next head to Monterrey, Mexico, to open the CONCACAF Champions League finals on April 20. Colorado, meanwhile, dropped their second straight; the Rapids will host Seattle on April 22.
Salt Lake will look to retain the Rocky Mountain Cup for the fifth straight season when the two teams meet again on Oct. 14 in Colorado.
RSL -- Fabian Espindola 1 (Paulo Araujo Jr. 2) 93+
Colorado Rapids -- Matt Pickens, Kosuke Kimura, Marvell Wynne, Tyrone Marshall, Drew Moor, Brian Mullan, Jamie Smith (Andre Akpan 86), Jeff Larentowicz, Wells Thompson, Omar Cummings (Quincy Amarikwa 64) (Sanna Nyassi 69), Caleb Folan.
Substitutes Not Used: Joseph Nane, Scott Palguta, Anthony Wallace, Steward Ceus.
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, Alvaro Saborio (Paulo Araujo Jr. 69), Fabian Espindola.
Substitutes Not Used: Jean Alexandre, Arturo Alvarez, Robbie Russell, Chris Schuler, Collen Warner, Kyle Reynish.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee's Assistants: Peter Manikowski; Craig Lowry
4th Official: Tyler Ploeger
Time of Game: 1:51
Weather: Cloudy and 52 degrees