- Ethan Gomberg

SANDY, UT - Real Salt Lake found their feet with a 1-0 win over Chivas USA at Rio Tinto stadium, to bounce back following losses to Monterry in the CONCACAF Champions League and Portland in MLS play. Will Johnson scored for Salt Lake in the 87th, but the home side also lost the services of playmaker Javier Morales for a significant period of time after he was stretchered off with a fractured leg.

Coming into this game we had two clubs going in two very different directions. Even at the start of the season, structure and expectations were very different for these Salt Lake and Chivas sides. RSL came in with winning streaks, a stable core, lauded coaches and very dedicated player roster. They were charging for CCL glory. On the other side, we had Chivas USA, struggling, missing the playoffs, no coach and no idea who the starting eleven would be. Now in May of 2011, we have the oft lauded RSL team on a 2 game losing streak, uncertain forward corps and no focus. They were in need of a win today to put them on track. RSL lost that heartbreaker against Monterrey in the Champions League final at home and then stumbled away at Portland last week, their first loss of the young MLS season.

Chivas USA on the other hand, were a team seemingly on the upswing. Former RSL assistant coach Robin Fraser, now Chivas head coach, returned home for the first time (although rumors have it that he was in Salt Lake for the Easter weekend). After a rough start and two consecutive losses, Chivas came into the match today on a 5 game unbeaten streak and having won their last two against San Jose and New England.

Some revelations early for Chivas has been forward Marcos Modaini of Argentina and former TFC and Colorado midfielder Nick LaBrocca. Chivas kept the same starting 11 that they had in their win last week against New England for this match. The big questions coming into were if Chivas could keep building on their momentum and if Fraser had some advantage because of his former position as a helping hand in building this RSL team.

RSL's issues coming into this one seemed massive but, importantly, the core of the team is still there. They’re at home, where they haven't lost a MLS home game in years, but both starting forwards Fabian Espindola and Alvario Saborio are experiencing some problems. Saborio has been dealing with an injury since the Saprissa match several weeks ago and Espindola had crushing blow to his confidence during the Monterrey match. Both started tonight, which was a bit of a surprise, although RSL’s relative lack of depth of front certainly helped force Jason Kreis’s hand.

The game started off with some back and forth, RSL getting the most early touches. The 16th minute foul by Chivas defender Andrew Boyens on Saborio seemed like a red card for a professional foul by the last man back on a clear goal scoring opportunity but referee Paul Ward only awarded a free kick outside the box.

The 24th minute 2nd yellow on Boyens, which resulted in a red card and ejection, allowed the home side even more possession and the ability to push forward. Espindola especially, had some clear chances but could not make them count.

The game opened up even more when Mondaini received a straight red with a rather violent foul and tackle on Javier Morales, arguably RSL's best player. The foul looked hard, and Morales was forced to leave the pitch. Reports indicated it was a fractured ankle and he will see surgery on Monday.

After the match RSL coach Jason Kreis said “I didn’t think it was the most flagrant foul, he did come from behind, we were coming into our attacking third and Javi (Morales) was clearly going to shoot, but I don’t think the player (Mondaini) … was that egregious”.

RSL defender Nat Borchers said “Mondaini didn’t mean to do it, but it was clear that he was going for the foul… I think that the league has to crack down on this sort of thing”. Midfielder Will Johnson called for Mondaini to receive a lengthy suspension.

Midfielder Andy Williams came in for Morales and now a nine-man Chivas USA team had to deal with the pressure. The half ended with RSL clearly in the driving seat but still looking at a 0-0 score line.

In the 2nd half it was all RSL, with Chivas electing to simply waste as much time as possible. Chivas goalie Dan Kennedy was the man of the match for them in this regard by blocking a number ofRSL scoring attempts. In fact, Chivas did such a good job defending as a team that RSL began to get frustrated by the 65th minute. RSL’s Borchers said after the game “that 2nd half was very frustrating to be honest, we didn’t put together the set of passes… some of the players were scared after the incident (with Morales)… the team is still in a funk.”

RSL brought in Arturo Alvarez and Collen Warner to add some offensive power. Chivas USA brought in Justin Braun and Mariano Trujillo to get pressure off their defense, but neither had any real chances.
Over the course of the 2nd half RSL continually made runs into the final third but were unable to connect, the Chivas defense holding firm.

After the game Kreis said “You can look at it like we were up two men and we should score one or three goals or on the other hand you can say when there was one team all in one side of the field with all of the players in the penalty box, it’s difficult to score. You’re relying on some situations where we have to score where we are not typically scoring from, from wide.”

Eventually RSL’s multiple attacks paid off. A clean, cutting pass from 2nd half sub Warner to midfielder Will Johnson who was able, finally, to find the back of the net.

After the match, Salt Lake were united in concern for their fallen teammate. Defender Borchers said “Yeah we played for Javi .” while goalscorer Johnson wasn’t too excited about his winning goal, saying “I tried to use (Morales) injury as motivation, Javi would have wanted us to win, but it’s tough. He is a great player and a friend.”

Chivas USA were dealt their first loss in 6 games, and RSL goes to 15 points on the table. RSL also extends their league home unbeaten record to 28.

Two things can be taken away from this match. Mondaini, who is considered as somewhat of an emerging leader of the new Chivas USA will be suspended next match, maybe more. MLS cannot turn a blind eye to another violent tackle to a star player. Morales injury is the biggest story of the game. Early reports say he fractured his ankle and will be out for 4 months. RSL won the MLS Cup without him but can they sustain a long period of the regular season, possibly all of it, without him?

Starting Line-ups:

RSL: Rimando, Russell (Alvarez 54’), Olave, Borchers, Wingert, Grabavoy, Beckerman, Morales (Williams 45’), Johnson, Sabario, Espindola (Warner 65’)
Subs not used: Reynish, Alexandre, Beltran, Schuler

Coach Jason Kreis

Chivas USA: Kennedy, Valentin, Boyens, Pearce, Jazic, Zemanski, Elliott, LaBrocca, Flores (Braun 57’), Mondaini, Moreno (Trujillo 73’)

Subs not used: Thornton, Estupinan, Mendoza, Umana

Coach Robin Fraser

Discipline: Boyens (15’ Yellow, 24’ Yellow-Red), Mondaini (37’ Red)

Scoring: RSL- Johnson (87’), Assists from Warner and Borchers (87’)

Referee Paul Ward

Attendance 14, 313
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