Starless, RSL leaves Vancouver atop western conference after 1-0 victory

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One goal in its previous two games. Back-to-back tough losses. Captainless. The starting goaltender — back in Salt Lake with most of the other starters. Not a promising night for a soccer club going the wrong direction at the end of the regular season.

These were the hurdles Real Salt Lake faced as it squared off against the playoff-hungry Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sept. 28 in enemy territory. And the team responded.

Nine minutes in, the team scored the only goal of the match on a quick attack rush. Defenseman Lovel Palmer accepted a quick pass from Olmes Garcia while bursting down the right wing. He took advantage of open space and sent a cross to the box with so much curve it could have turned a corner. Devon Sandoval finished the perfect pass with a header to the near side.

““Lovel (Palmer) played a perfect ball; I made a front post run, headed it,” Sandoval said. “I give all the credit to Lovel. That was a perfect ball.”

Sounds easy, right? The ease in which he described the turn of events that led to the goal made one thing clear: Real came to play and get out of its recent funk.

The early goal silenced the crowd as well as those who had been doubting Real’s ability to win as of late. Playing 10 different starters than its first-choice 11 and having surrendered the top spot in conference standings more than a week ago, RSL knew it needed to send a message to the rest of the league Saturday night. Now it enjoys a temporary one-point lead above Seattle atop the western conference.

“I told the players yesterday that I think, for me, this was just all about opportunity,” Real head coach David Kreis said in the post-game interview. “There was no reason to be fearful. There was no reason to come here thinking that we may lose — just go out there and give it everything we have and if we come away with a result, you will have helped the team tremendously.”

After scoring quickly in regulation, Real’s backfield held strong as the team battled to maintain the lead the rest of the night, holding Vancouver to just one shot on target. That came also because of a wonderful performance by backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.

Attinella stopped what would have been the equalizer in the 14th minute by coming far out of his box to challenge Whitecaps forward Camilo Sanvezzo. He played with confidence and authority all evening, eventually shutting the door on another attack in the 36th minute. This time, Vancouver forward Russell Teibert settled the ball with his chest on the left side and then sent a bullet on goal that curved before being sent over the top by the young keeper.

Real saw a few more scoring chances of its own, including a hit post by substitute forward Joao Plata two minutes into stoppage time.

Attinella entered the game without a single win in MLS contention. He held his ground, directed the defensive end and earned his first career victory, coming in shutout fashion.

“It was fun — it’s a group that doesn’t normally get to play a lot, but we have a lot of talented players,” Attinella said. “It’s great … to come out here and get a result and kind of right the ship. Hopefully the momentum carries into Tuesday.”

The Claret-and-Cobalt return home to host the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on Oct. 1. The team welcomes D.C. United, to whom it lost 1-0 back in March. A win on Tuesday would give RSL its first trophy of the season and an automatic entry into the 2014/2015 CONCACAF Champions League.

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