Rocky Mountain Cup: Real Salt Lake down 10-man Colorado Rapids 3-0

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COMMERCE CITY, CO - APRIL 15: Head coach Mike Petke of Real Salt Lake watches from the sidelines as his team plays the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 15, 2017 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

SANDY, UTAH – Real Salt Lake won the opening game of the 2018 Rocky Mountain Cup on Saturday night. They defeated a 10-man Colorado Rapids 3-0. The Rapids had a tough night after Tim Howard was sent off in the first half and heroic defending ended in nothing after Tommy Smith was called for a PK in the 81st minute.

Rocky Mountain Cup: Real Salt Lake down 10-man Colorado Rapids 3-0

The Rapids were the better side through the first 20 minutes. They were better in possession, creating several chances and five corners. Jack McBean had the best opportunities with two headers off corners, but he could not convert.

The match swung in RSL’s favor in the 20th minute as goalkeeper Tim Howard was sent off for denial of a goal scoring opportunity. Salt Lake sprung a counter-attack as Jefferson Savarino got in behind the Colorado defense. Howard was forced to come off his line to challenge the shot. He made the save but replay showed the ball first made contact with Howard’s left arm, that was slightly sticking out to the side.

After consulting the other officials, head referee Joseph Dickerson gave Howard a red card. Zac MacMath came on for McBean. RSL had most of the ball for the rest of the first half, but only had two truly dangerous chances. The best chance came in the 35th minute when Albert Rusnák fired a shot that barely got deflected over the bar.

Salt Lake pushed in the second half to get a goal. Brooks Lennon nearly scored in the 61st minute, Enzo Martinez cleared a ball off the line as he was marking the post on a corner. They had a flurry around the 65th minute with Rusnák, Lennon, and Joao Plata all getting chances.

RSL got another lifeline in the 81st minute. After a chaotic sequence in the box, VAR was brought in and determined that Tommy Smith swatted a ball away on the ground with his arm. A PK was called and Smith was given a yellow card. Plata stepped up and beat MacMath to score.

Damir Kreilach made it two in the final minutes with a curler to score his first MLS goal. Rusnák made it three on a set piece that went around the wall and inside the near post. The match ended 3-0.

Three things to take note of:

Officials on point: The red card to Howard for a DOGSO was tough, but the right call. Howard was the last man back and the ball definitely hit his arm before his body. The officials did a good job conversing before a decision was made. If Howard’s arm is tucked in a few inches closer to his side, he probably gets away with it. The same can be said for the Tommy Smith PK. He clearly reached out with his arm to swat the ball away. That’s a penalty and he was lucky to only get a yellow card.

No possession with a purpose: For all the possession Salt Lake got after the 20th minute, they didn’t get a lot of it. They had a few good chances, mostly on corners. Getting to the final third and the top of the box was easy, but the Rapids gave them nothing after that. MacMath was excellent in goal and Axel Sjoberg made a number of key clearances and blocks.

RSL were lucky: This is just the third win for RSL on the year (all at home) and again they were unconvincing. The Rapids were clearly the better side in the first 20 minutes before they went down a man. In the 60 minutes that followed, RSL had lots of the ball but not a lot of ideas on how to bread Colorado down. If they don’t get either of those calls, they probably don’t win this game.

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