Sandy • In its last home game, Real Salt Lake enjoyed the performance, but not the result.
This time, it was the other way around.
The three points in the standings were more than reasonable consolation for a team that played far off its best in a 1-0 victory over the expansion Montreal Impact in front of a sellout crowd of 20,191 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night and suffered two crucial injuries that could play a huge role in the coming weeks.
Midfielder Javier Morales pulled his hamstring so badly he was sitting on the field during the final stages, while fellow midfielder Ned Grabavoy suffered what the team believes is a broken rib and needed help getting dressed in the locker room after the game.
All that, in addition to a disjointed and unimpressive effort from a team just four days removed from a breathtaking comeback victory at Portland. Had the Impact been anything but a patchwork expansion team with only three goals all season, RSL might have paid for its shabbiness.
"Tonight I'm just displeased with the performance," coach Jason Kreis said. "It's the first game this year that I can say that. Lot of things to be displeased with."
At least, the result was not one of them.
Points were the casualty nearly two weeks ago, when RSL played well but couldn't finish its chances, and lost 1-0 at home to then-winless Chivas USA.
Against the winless Impact, though, RSL struck early on a Paulo Jr. penalty kick, and made it stand up despite a nervous final few minutes with Morales on the grass and the Impact threatening in the penalty area.
"Poor performance by us," defender Tony Beltran said. But "it's a long season, and not every game is going to be pretty, especially sometimes when we're playing three games in a week. … We got the result, and that's all that matters."
Or, in the words of midfielder Jonny Steele: "Man United grinds out results every week. They count 'em at the end of the season."
Indeed they do, and now RSL sits atop the MLS Western Conference with 12 points from its 4-1-0 record, with rival Colorado visiting on Saturday. The Impact remain winless, 0-4-1 and shut out in three of its five games.
Midfielder Will Johnson joined Steele and right back Terakazu Tanaka in making their first starts of the season as Kreis shuffled the lineup for the middle game of three in seven days, and helped create the cushion that RSL enjoyed most of the night.
It was a Johnson header in the box off a Steele cross that hit Montreal's Justin Braun in the hand, resulting in the penalty kick that Paulo Jr. easily converted in the 13th minute for his first goal of the season.
That was the strike that had been missing against Chivas, although the rest of the game was missing the smooth performance that RSL put on against the Goats.
"Obviously, the performance wasn't good," Johnson said. "It needs to be a lot better. But at the end of the day, I'm sure that [Montreal] would trade the three points for the performance any day. It's a results business, and tonight we did enough to get the result."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MCLTribune
R KEY STAT • RSL is 7-1-1 against expansion teams making their first visit to Utah.
KEY MOMENT • SLC's Justin Braun commits a handball in the box, leading to an RSL penalty kick in the 13th minute.
Tryout for aspiring soccer players
Calling all aspiring soccer players. Real Salt Lake is offering a chance to Utah's best young players and potentially enter the ranks of the RSL Youth Development system with a tryout April 21-22 at Mt. Jordan Middle School in Sandy, located at 9360 S. 300 East.
The RSL-Arizona Academy staff will evaluate the talent for players born between 1994-1997. All players will be required to pre-register for the tryouts, including payment of the $50 registration fee (no walk-up registrants will be accepted). The registration process can be accessed by clicking here to go to the U-17 Academy Tryout Page at RealSaltLake.com.