By Ali Williams
Real Salt Lake needed late heroics to secure a 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Wizards Saturday (May 20, 2006) night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
For the second time in as many games, reigning MLS player of the week and Real forward Jeff Cunningham came off the bench to score and lift his team to victory. On this night, Cunningham scored the unassisted game-winner in the 80th minute.
“The defender backed off a bit,” Cunningham said. “I am in the 18-yard box, and you have to shoot. If it gets deflected or whatever, I am just happy it just went in.”
The goal ignited the crowd of 16,222, which had been sparked just two minutes earlier on a goal by Mehdi Ballouchy.
Real drew even on a threaded through ball by Chris Klein that found a streaking Ballouchy in behind the Wizard defense. Ballouchy beat Kansas City keeper Bo Oshoniyi on a first-time shot to score the rookie”s first MLS goal.
“Jeff Cunningham ran and the center backs followed him, and opened up big space for me,” Ballouchy said. “I just ran in, and it was a great ball all I had to do was touch it. I am excited that I scored. I am more excited that we won.”
The game marked the first time since last August that Salt Lake won back-to-back games.
“I think we gained a lot of confidence last week in LA,” Real head coach John Ellinger said. “I hope we build on it from this point forward.”
The two goals were necessary for the win after Kansas City took the early lead. In the 27th minute, the Wizards caught Real pushed up on a corner kick and scored on a counter-attack. Wizard forward Ryan Pore beat Scott Garlick to take a 1-0 lead.
Along came Jeff Cunningham. He entered the game in the 59th minute, replacing Atiba Harris. Just 10 minutes later, Ellinger went more offensive bringing in midfielder Andy Williams for defender Nelson Akwari.
The offensive move was matched by Kansas City coach Bob Gansler going defensive, bringing in midfielder Lance Watson for forward and goal scorer Pore.
Ellinger was looking to make tactical changes throughout the game. In the second half, Ballouchy was moved from his spot on the left side of midfield to a more central role in midfield, changing the formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3.
“In the first half, we were getting killed by their extra midfielder,” Ellinger said. “So we just switched to a 4-3-3 in the second half and made it harder for them, made them have to play in the middle, and try to get our outside backs to go forward more in the second half which worked a little better.”