CHICAGO (ABC 4 Sports) - Real Salt Lake moved to the top of both the overall and Western Conference standings by virtue of a scoreless draw against the Chicago Fire.
In front of 13,544 fans at Toyota Park, Kyle Reynish making his first start of the season for the injured Nick Rimando, notched RSL's fourth shutout of the season, extending Real's unbeaten streak to four games. Real is now 7-3-2 on the season and has a league high 23 points.
“I’m pleased," said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. "I’m really pleased. They worked incredibly hard. It’s been a while since we’ve had a shutout. We made that a pretty clear objective for our players-any time we are on the road, it starts with our defensive effort, which starts with us trying to keep a shut-out and then we go from there. I think the guys did a tremendous amount of work tonight to make that happen. I’m pleased that’s four results for us in a row with a tie in Dallas and two home wins, and now a tie in Chicago so I feel like we are doing well.”
Just three minutes after kickoff, that clean sheet was nearly in jeopardy, as Fire forward Dominic Oduro got his head on a cross over Reynish inside the six-yard box and slammed his offering off the crossbar. In the game’s 10th minute, Marco Pappa sent a long-range blast to force Reynish’s only save of the first half, the Fire unable to penetrate the RSL defense of Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Chicago native Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert.
The RSL midfield began to establish its possession dominance midway through the first half despite a right quadriceps injury to playmaker Javier Morales. The Argentine midfielder will be evaluated upon the team’s return to Salt Lake on Thursday, his status for Saturday’s 2011 MLS Cup Playoff Western Conference Semifinal rematch in Seattle to be determined.
“I thought maybe they had the majority of chances but in these types of games you never know," said Reynish. "I definitely think we had three or four chances-Paulo almost had one, Saborio almost had one. When you’re on the road like that, you play not to give up goals and maybe you can get one or two and sneak out of here with three points, but tonight we got one. Points on the road are points on the road.”
RSL’s best attacking chances came through the attacking tandem of Alvaro Saborio and Paulo Junior, each of whom saw excellent chances inside the box sent just inches wide left of the post in the first half. Only 30 seconds into the second half, Paulo Junior – starting in place of an absent Fabian Espindola, in Salt Lake enjoying newborn son Jayko with wife Barbara, – forced Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson into a sprawling save, as Paulo’s wickedly-curving shot from distance knuckled en route to goal, but could not get past Johnson.
“I thought it was a little bit of a chess match," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "I think the teams were afraid of making a mistake-they didn’t want to give up that crucial first goal. They started out really strong in the first 20 minutes and that caused us some problems. We were on our heels a little bit and I think we settled down as the game went on more and more. They became less dangerous after the first twenty minutes.”
Real Salt Lake next take on the Sounders in Seattle Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. on ABC-4.