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Sandy • Fireworks popped periodically in the not-so-far-off distance northeast of Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday evening. The main event was under the lights in Sandy and, regardless of the outcome of Real Salt Lake's Pioneer Day matchup with the visiting Montreal Impact, some fireworks were promised to those packed inside.
Once substitute Olmes Garcia rose up and whipped his head to the left, flicking the ball played into the box, the end result superseded anything that was guaranteed once the final whistle was blown. Garcia's 70th-minute goal supplied more than just a moment for the 21-year-old Colombian to celebrate his first goal of the year.
It was a sense of relief. It was three points. It was Garcia dancing in ecstasy, swarmed by his teammates near the corner flag. It was a must-win outing won by RSL 3-1 as the club aims to continue to climb out of its summertime slump.
"It's what we want from him," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said of Garcia. "Just a fantastic performance."
The emergence of Garcia could play a large part in starting a chase toward first-place Seattle. He notched a stoppage-time goal to earn his first two-goal game since last June thanks to a timely ball by Javier Morales, who ended with a pair of assists.
"I think we have to keep working, keep improving, but I'm happy because Garcia comes in the second half and scores two goals," Morales said.
Garcia's goals, his first since July 13, 2013 also the first from another RSL forward not named Alvaro Saborio or Joao Plata in 2014 might have been the lasting impression, but the match started off with a bang. Once Morales settled over the first corner kick of the night less than two minutes into the match, his initial cross bent in, but was cleared before Nat Borchers could put his head on the ball.
Seconds later, Morales' corner kick eventually found the head of Chris Schuler. The RSL defender headed it back toward the center of the penalty area and Luke Mulholland took care of the rest. The first-year midfielder put his right foot on the ball and tucked it into the near post by an outstretched Evan Bush to notch his fifth goal of the season.
Cassar said this week that his team couldn't allow Montreal the lowest-scoring team in the league to find a comfort zone. And despite going down three minutes into a match on the road, the Impact found some comfort in the first 45 minutes. It was punctuated by an equalizing goal by defender Hassoun Camara in the 31st minute. As midfielder Calum Mallace noticed the streaking French international enter the box, Montreal's midfielder played a simple ball to Camara, who had outpaced Morales in a race for the ball. Camara put the ball on his left foot and sent it to the far post to equalize.
The second frame was made interesting once Montreal midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran exposed his cleats and made contact with leg of an onrushing Schuler as the two contending for a 50-50 ball near midfield. Nakajima-Farran was sent off in the 65th minute, putting RSL a man up for the final 25 minutes of the match.
From there, RSL was tasked with unlocking a bunkered-in Impact team and owning a man advantage in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,398.
"The grinding spirit was excellent," Cassar said.
From there, Garcia and Morales picked the lock.
RSL 3, Montreal 1
Montreal 1 0 1
Real Salt Lake 1 2 3
First half 1, Real Salt Lake, Mulholland 5 (Schuler), 3rd minute. 2, Montreal, Camara 1 (Mallace), 31st.
Second half3, Real Salt Lake, Garcia 1 (Mulholland, Morales), 70th. 4, Real Salt Lake, Garcia 2 (Morales, Beckerman), 90th+.
GoaliesMontreal, Evan Bush Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando.
Yellow CardsWingert, Real Salt Lake, 18th Gagnon-Lapare, Montreal, 82nd.
Red CardNakajima-Farran, Montreal, 65th.
Assistant RefereesGeorge Gansner. Mike Rottersman.
4th OfficialDaniel Radford.
MontrealEvan Bush, Hassoun Camara, Matteo Ferrari, Krzysztof Krol, Heath Pearce, Calum Mallace (Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, 62nd), Felipe Martins (Justin Mapp, 62nd), Andres Romero, Issey Nakajima-Farran, Patrice Bernier, Marco Di Vaio (Jack McInerney, 77th).
RSLNick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Luke Mulholland (Cole Grossman, 83rd), Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales (John Stertzer, 90th+), Joao Plata, Robbie Findley (Olmes Garcia, 59th).