<strong>SANDY—</strong> Real Salt Lake hadn’t won a Major League Soccer game heading into its match against DC United. A solid defensive effort and a game-winning header by midfielder Will Johnson gave RSL the victory, 1-0.
“I think it was a splendid performance from him tonight,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said of Johnson. “I think in the first half he played a little bit deep and he sometimes has a tendency to do that. I like to get him to play a little bit higher so he is not level with Kyle (Beckerman). In the second half he was more aggressive with his positioning and that put him in a better position to attack. I’m obviously extremely pleased when someone who works hard like that scores the game winner. He deserved it.”
Johnson’s goal came in the 48th minute as the midfielder put his head on the ball that was a result of a deflected shot from forward Paulo Junior.
“It was a big game for all of us,” RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “We wanted to get three points tonight. We knew they have some great players on their team and we really had to be sharp out there and bring a lot of energy to get three points. I think we really worked hard to get a goal tonight. They had some good defensive plays, but we stuck with and were able to knock one in.”
On top of the pressure of a tight playoff race in the Western Conference, RSL experienced a slight distraction near the beginning of the match. Two storms cells full of lightning and thunder caused a delay which lasted one hour and twenty four minutes.
“It’s always difficult for the guys and it can be hard to stay focused,” Kreis said. “It can be hard to stay focused because there are so many communications as to when you are going to start. It seems like there isn’t a real set system. It can be frustrating for the players, but all-in-all, I think they handled it pretty well.”
For Rimando, who finished with four saves in the game, the delay relaxed the team from the pressure of the playoff situation.
“I think it kind of relaxed us,” he said. “We came in really tense and the mood kept getting lighter and lighter as time went on. We goofed around and it set the tone when we went back out to play our game and put the effort to get the result.”
The Claret and Cobalt allowed DC United to put five shots on frame – and several of those had a great chance of finding the back of the net – but Kreis won’t complain about a shutout.
“It was another strong one,” Kreis said of the defensive effort. “I think there were some critical errors that we covered ourselves pretty well. Rimando’s performance was outstanding tonight. Obviously, he made some critical saves for us in the second half.”
Although it was not mentioned as the concern after the match, RSL incurred three yellow cards for misconduct and will be without defender Chris Wingert who picked the infraction in the 70th minute for a foul the referee deemed too physical.
The victory improved RSL to 14-10-4 with a total of 46 points and a second place spot in the Western Conference.
“They were absolutely critical,” Kreis said of earning the three points. “I told the guys that the day before the game. We have three home games – and now we have two – there just can’t be anything less than maximum points in both games to give ourselves a chance to not end up in the last two playoff spots.”
With six games remaining, RSL will face playoff contenders in the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC. RSL faces the Houston Dynamo Thursday on the road.