RSL matches season goal total in second-half rout
The home side was on the front foot early, with striker Joao Plata, making his first starting appearance since RSL's season opener a month ago, logging two quality chances inside the first ten minutes. But Plata's chances, along with a host of others throughout the first half from teammates Yura Movsisyan and Luke Mulholland, went begging.
But as the strong winds prevalent in the first half gave way to white-out snow in the second (necessitating the use of a more easily visible orange replacement ball), RSL found its footing before the Whitecaps, notching the eventual game-winner in the 54th minute. Plata's 40-yard through ball on the counter split Vancouver defenders Kendall Waston and Christian Dean and nestled onto the foot of attacking midfielder Albert Rusnak. Rusnak dribbled into the snow-glazed box, and with a pair of touches to settle the ball and wrong-foot the recovering Whitecaps defense, fired to the near post, beating a helpless David Ousted, who had cheated across the goal to protect against a potential square ball to an on-rushing Yura Movsisyan. The goal was Rusnak's first in Major League Soccer.
And Rusnak's night was far from over. The Slovakian's long ball over the top of the Whitecap's back-three picked out Movsisyan at the top of the box, and with a simple feint, the RSL striker caused a sprinting Waston to overrun the play. The small window was enough for the Armenian to shoot a bending right-footed ball to Ousted's far post. The Whitecaps' goalkeeper managed a weak deflection, but Movsisyan's shot found the inside of the post and caromed into the net.
Rusnak finished the night with one more assist, finding midfielder Luke Mulholland for a simple finish off a corner kick. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned the shutout for the Claret and Cobalt, the 131st of his career.
Dawn of the Petke Era
Saturday's match was RSL's first with newly hired coach Mike Petke on the sideline, and the team showed new signs of life after five frustrating opening games. The first half was marked by an aggressive high press by the home side, and chances came in bunches. But after the dam burst with Rusnak's second-half breakthrough, Petke's squad cruised to victory.
"In the first half as the snow was starting to fall and it wasn't that bad there was some very good stuff from us," Petke said. "Second half was all about grit and heart and just desire. Soccer goes out the window. But they got the goals in the second half and it's amazing."
The win was particularly sweet for a team that started the season off with two draws and three losses and still smarting from a 4-2 thrashing at Minnesota United last week. And while injuries and absences have certainly played a role in RSL's early season underachievement, the clean break that comes from hiring a new coach appears to have allowed the squad to push reset on the 2017 season.
Real Salt Lake travels to Dick's Sporting Goods Park next Saturday for the first leg of this year's Rocky Mountain Cup against Colorado Rapids, while Vancouver plays host to Cascadia Cup rival Seattle Sounders.