MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 FC Dallas

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWUozhXNBn4]

One game, 100 words (or less): A game FC Dallas threatened to steal in Saturday’s second half became a welcome back party for Real Salt Lake’s all-time leading scorer. With his first touch since May, Álvaro Saborío, returning from a broken foot, headed home a 77th minute corner kick, restoring RSL’s one-goal lead and giving the home team a 2-1 win over visiting FC Dallas.

The Claret and Cobalt took advantage of a controlling first half-hour with a goal through Robbie Finley in the 31st minute. Just past the hour mark, converting their first shot on target, the visiting Toros equalized, with Michel blasting a dead ball into Nick Rimando’s left side netting.

Seconds after coming on for Olmes Garcia, Saborío put RSL back in front, beating Tesho Akindele on a near-post run before redirecting the night’s winning goal inside Raúl Fernández’s far post. Getting revenge for Aug. 22’s 2-1 loss in Frisco, Tex., RSL reversed the score at Rio Tinto Stadium, pulling the team within a game of the second place Galaxy in the Western Conference.

Goals

Real Salt Lake: Robbie Findley 31′, Álvaro Saborío 77′
FC Dallas: Michel 62′

Three moments that mattered:

31′ – It was coming – Even more than usual, FC Dallas was quick to recede into its defensive third, something that became particularly bad idea against a motivated RSL. Though the Toros survived the first half hour, a bounce like the one that opened the night’s scoring was bound to happen.

Off a long shot from Luke Mulholland, Findley found an open chance from the spot, slipping his shot inside Fernández’s right post to give RSL a 1-0 lead.

62′ – Dead balls and counters – Tonight, it was the former that almost saved FC Dallas. Dominated throughout the first hour, FCD broke through off a second half direct kick, with Michel showing yet again his left foot can be a decisive weapon.

Blasting a low shot from the right through the penalty area, the Dallas midfielder gave Rimando no chance to find and react to the shot, pulling Dallas even with the team’s first shot on target.

As Dallas celebrated, RSL’s 12-5 edge in scots and 58-42 edge in possession were rendered irrelevant. One Brazilian’s left foot had blunted the home side’s charge.

77′ – Sabo’s glorious return – It’s games like this were RSL really missed its all-time leading scorer. As opponents have given them room to ease forward in attack, RSL lacked somebody to make them pay. We saw it two weeks ago in Dallas. We saw it last week against San Jose. Jeff Cassar needed his finisher to return.

With his first touch since May, Saborío was missed no more. Heading home a Morales corner seconds after coming on, the Costa Rican international reminded fans of the impact he will have, with a smile affixed to his shocked face portraying is own disbelief at scoring with his first touch.

Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert; Luke Mulholland (Luis Gil 76′), Kyle Beckerman, Nat Grabavoy; Javier Morales; Robbie Findley (Sebastian Jaime 67′), Olmes Garcia (Alvaro Saborio 76′)

FC Dallas: Raúl Fernández; Je-Vaughn Watson, Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, Jair Benítez (Moises Hernandez 77′); Kelyn Acosta (Mauro Diaz 81′), Victor Ulloa, Peter Luccin (Techo Akindele 45′), Michel; Andrés Escober, Fabián Castillo

Three lessons going forward:

1. Sabo will matter – Sebastian Jaime will, too. The Argentina-via-Chile import had his own chance near the end of the match, but his attempt to draw a whistle unrewarded. Moments before he was giving Dallas trouble on the other flank, providing the type of wide, aggressive, supporting presence the team hasn’t had since trading Fabián Espíndola.

As for Saborío, the guy’s one of the best forwards in the league, presenting a distinct (and for opponents, scary) combination of skill, technique, and experience. We knew his return make a difference, just not six seconds into his return.

2. What to think of FC Dallas – I spent an hour tonight thinking “I have to drop FCD in my Power Rankings. And drop them a lot.” Then Michel converts on a set piece, Dallas looks like the best team for 15 minutes, and the game takes on a familiar feel.

Óscar Pareja kept his team close enough to steal it in the second half, and while that didn’t happen, Dallas still flashed their contenders’ credentials. Perhaps their way of impressing isn’t as persuasive as LA, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle’s, but if FCD can keep games close, they have enough players (Castillo, Michel, a health Díaz) who can sway results.

3. The West is ridiculous – LA is the best team in the league. Seattle has a claim (albeit a weak one) to that same honor. With Saborío and Jaime playing, RSL has as many weapons as anybody in the league (if not more), while FC Dallas has Pareja and a handful of game-breaking talents.

I have no idea who is coming out of this conference. I just know the playoffs look amazing.

Where this leaves them:

  • Real Salt Lake is within three points of Los Angeles for second in the conference. Perhaps more importantly, RSL’s now four points clear of fourth, a.k.a. part of that mid-week play-in game to kick off the postseason.
  • Dallas stays on 42 points eight ahead of the Whitecaps and Timbers. FCD fans: that 4-5 game is coming. Get ready to pack Toyota Stadium.