SANDY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Even in the middle of a coaching change, Real Salt Lake continues to play its best soccer of the year.
In RSL’s first game since Mike Petke was fired and Freddy Juarez was named the interim head coach for the rest of the season, Sam Johnson, Albert Rusnak and Corey Baird scored goals as Real Salt Lake soundly beat Seattle Wednesday night, 3-0.
With the victory, RSL (12-9-4) moves into 4th place in the Western Conference standings with nine games remaining. The top four teams get to host first round playoff games.
“Look, Freddy was officially named as the interim head coach but going back two or three games we played in Dallas, Freddy stepped in and we did the job there,” said assistant coach Tyrone Marshall. “So coming back home knowing that he’s a guy that’s at the helm right now and getting the win for him, I think it’s fantastic. The group mentality has been the same.”
“It’s huge,” defender Aaron Herrera said. “Freddy deserves everything that is coming his way. He’s an incredible coach. We all believe in him and have confidence in him as he does in us. It goes both ways and it works well.”
Johnson, in his first start since July 3rd, blasted a shot off a Seattle defender and over the head of Sounders goalkeeper Stephen Frei to give Real a 1-0 lead at the half.
It stayed that way until the 71st minute, when Damir Kreilach left it for Albert Rusnak, who found the far corner of the net to tie Johnson for the team lead with nine goals on the season.
Then in the 87th minute, Kreilach found Corey Baird on a breakaway, and Baird beat Frei for his third goal in two games to give RSL a 3-0 victory.
Real Salt Lake didn’t allow a single shot on goal, recording its 5th shutout in its last 9 MLS games.
“I think we’re just getting momentum, to be honest, through good play and good understanding of what’s required of us,” said defender Needum Onuoha. “Once you start getting the results, it’s easy to believe in. The players, every time they step onto the field, we honestly believe we can keep the clean sheet. I felt a bit of pressure today because they’ve been doing so well recently to come back into form. The way the team is, it was the perfect game to get back into it.”
“We started focusing a lot more on us,” Marshall said. “That has definitely been the turning point. Going into games, we’re not so much focused on the opponent, but more focused on how we can break then down a little bit better and how we can be better defensively.”
RSL is now unbeaten in its last six games, and is 6-1-3 since the Gold Cup break in June.
With 40 points, Real Salt Lake is now tied with the LA Galaxy, and is one point behind Minnesota for second place.
First place LAFC visits Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday at 8:00 p.m.