SANDY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni wanted his experienced playoff-proven players to take the first few penalty kicks in Monday’s thrilling penalty kick shootout against the Houston Dynamo.
Chicho Arango, Damir Kreilach, Jefferson Savarino and Bryan Vera all came through. But with the game on the line, Mastroeni turned to his 20-year-old phenom, Diego Luna.
“I asked Luna, ‘do you want to go fourth or fifth?’ Mastroeni said. “He said, ‘I want to go fifth.’ This moment isn’t about technique as much as it is about belief that you’re going to score the goal.”
Luna did convert his first PK of the season, sending the series to a winner-take-all game three Saturday in Houston.
“I think it’s just the confidence and going up there knowing what you’re going to do,” Luna said. “I walked up to Zac [MacMath] right there when he gave me the ball and I said, ‘let’s go to Houston!’ So I think it was just having confidence and just putting it away.”
RSL wouldn’t have even been in that position had Zac MacMath not made a save on the first penalty kick by Amine Bassi. How did he know to stay in the middle to block the shot? His wife gave him the idea.
“I really wasn’t even thinking,” MacMath said. “It’s funny watching all the PK’s over the years, my wife was always like, “just stay in the middle.” So I give a lot of credit to her for that idea.”
Trailing 1-0 at the half, RSL needed an offensive spark in the second half. In the 55th minute, Chicho Arango, who had missed the last month with a hamstring injury, came into the game, and the scoring chances started to open up.
In the 70th minute, with Savarino delivered the game-tying goal on a beautiful free kick that found the corner of the net.
“You live and die by your best players,” Mastroeni said. “They’re that important to the group, and I think when Chicho comes into the game, not only does it bring belief to the stadium, but it’s infectious within the group.”
So tied at one game a piece, it now it all comes down to Game 3 Saturday in Houston, and RSL suddenly has snatched all the momentum.
“For me I think it’s how do we take this game both tactically, emotionally, physically and do it again in a short amount of time?” Mastroeni said.
“I think we got a lot of motivation going in there and I think having those fans out there like that today is big motivation to, you know, hosting the next game if we go through,” said Luna. “So if that’s not motivating us I don’t know what is.”
RSL is now 1-3-1 against Houston this season across all competitions.
The winner of Saturday’s game between Real Salt Lake and Houston will take on Sporting KC in the Western Conference semifinals.