SANDY (ABC 4 Sports) - Real Salt Lake kept pace with its Western Conference rivals around the League with its third consecutive home victory, downing winless Toronto FC with first-year Jonny Steele scoring in the 93rd minute to lead RSL to a 3-2 win.
“It took me a minute to get settled," said Steele. "I had a chance before that, so the next one I said to (Kyle Beckerman), “Next one, look for me next time.” He took a touch, laid it off and I just placed it in. He set it perfect and I just ran onto it.”
“Really pleased with his calmness on the ball to strike that and make sure it got on frame where he wanted it to," said head coach Jason Kreis. "Other players would hash at that and it wouldn’t end up on frame. Pleased with his contribution and pleased with the work by the entire group tonight.”
Before 17,629 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL jumped out to the early lead as Kyle Beckerman slammed home the ball for Real Salt Lake’s first set-piece goal of the year. A seventh-minute corner kick by MF Javier Morales – starting for the third consecutive game this week – went far post to find DF Jamison Olave, whose header back across the face of goal was chested down by DF Chris Schuler and slammed home by Beckerman, for RSL’s earliest tally of the young season.
“When you get to the dying moments of the match and you think about how things played out, I still would have felt the performance was pretty darn good," said Kreis. "We had a ton of scoring chances. On a different night I think we win that game handily. I think on the other side of that, we could have lost that game, because we took a ton of risks at the end. Fortune favored the bold, I guess. When we’re at home, we go for three points, and nothing less is acceptable.”
RSL would enter the halftime break up 1-0 after seeing Alvaro Saborio’s header disallowed on a much-debated offsides call, while Chris Wingert also saw a one-on-one with Toronto FC goalkeeper Milos Kocic nullified for the same reason.
Toronto FC equalized early in the second half as a pair of players familiar to RSL – former Dallas playmaker Eric Avila and 2006 RSL draft pick Ryan Johnson – combined to knot the game at 1-1 in the 48th minute. After centerback Adrian Cann cut off a clearance by Tony Beltran, Johnson – the former Oregon State product drafted by RSL and traded to Chicago in exchange for centerback Jack Stewart – fed Avila at the top of the box. Avila, a third-year player who scored the decisive goal for Dallas in its 2010 MLS Cup Playoff elimination of RSL in leg one of the West Semis – juked RSL DF Jamison Olave and curled a right-footed blast past goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Four minutes later, Avila hit the crossbar with a similar blast, but RSL went ahead just moments after that, as a 58’ cross from Beltran nearly found the head of an onrushing Saborio inside the six, but was kneed home for an own goal by Toronto FC DF Richard Eckersley to give RSL the 2-1 lead. That advantage lasted nearly 20 more minutes, until Toronto broke back against RSL’s one-way traffic with a set-piece goal that saw substitute Doneil Henry redirect a Miguel Aceval corner kick to equalize, 2-2, with 10 minutes remaining.
RSL thought it had the game-winner in the 82nd minute when Saborio again saw an apparent goal disallowed, this time the header nullified due to a foul call in the box. Throwing bodies forward and pushing for the home win, RSL was fortunate that a few Joao Plata opportunities went wanting in the waning minutes, setting the stage for stoppage-time heroics by Steele.
“It was a tough game for us," said Rimando. "It was the best I’ve seen Toronto play. They played great defensively. They packed it in the back, in the middle and pressured us. We didn’t play as sharp as we could, but we stuck it in there to the end and Jonny (Steele) came through for us. Javier (Morales) had a great ball; he turned with it well and Kyle (Beckerman) had a nice pass to Jonny and Jonny just put it away.”
“I thought it was a pretty bright beginning," said Kreis. "We stressed over the past couple of days, and we have stressed for the past couple of weeks that we want better starts, so I was pleased that we scored in the first 15 minutes. Pleased with some of the versatility we’re beginning to show on some of our attacks, getting the right numbers forward, getting some players involved and into the box; midfielders with scoring opportunities is always nice.
RSL next hosts New England May 5th.