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Sandy • The smoke perched over the south side of Rio Tinto Stadium as the drums synonymous for commemorating effort and hopefully goals scored rang louder and louder.
It signaled the revival of a crowd anxiously awaiting a hopeful lead and encapsulated a season in which Real Salt Lake wasn't expected to be leading the Western Conference and the race of the Supporters' Shield when the night of Oct. 23, 2013, drew to a close.
But that's exactly where RSL sits after a 2-1 victory over visiting Chivas USA in the regular-season Wednesday night in Sandy.
Eight months after the start of the preseason, RSL played its final match its 34th of the 2013 season and ensured there would be more matches to be played, both at Rio Tinto and somewhere else.
"We knew coming into this season that we had some new pieces to add and we lost some key guys," said defender Nat Borchers. "I think a lot of the talk around town was that we were in a rebuilding year, but for us to be in this position now is very positive. I've said it all along, the guys who have come in have done a great job of adjusting to our system and playing to our needs."
Newcomer Joao Plata fit the bill.
The forward had a hand in both of RSL's goals in a three-minute span in the second half. After star Javier Morales was subbed on at halftime while dealing with a lingering left ankle injury, Plata redirected a pass from Morales that hit the arm of Chivas defender Mario de Luna.
Moments later, Alvaro Saborio stepped to the spot and cooly finished the penalty.
Minutes after that, Plata put his own name on the scoring sheet with a left-footed curling shot atop the box past the outstretched arms of Tim Melia.
"When you score a goal, everything is a little bit easier, so we possessed the ball a little bit more, we created chances and we scored another one," Morales said.
RSL did concede what head coach Jason Kreis described as a "cheap goal" in the 77th minute when substitute Julio Morales sprung loose and poked a ball by Nick Rimando.
"Maybe a good thing that we have to spend the last 15 minutes really struggling and grinding out a result," Kreis said, "because that's exactly what it's going to take in the playoffs."
Nonetheless, RSL's regular season is done.
They're atop the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Portland Timbers and are ahead of the New York Red Bulls in the Supporters' Shield race for the moment. A plethora of things need to happen for RSL to lift the Shield and if the Timbers tie or lose to Chivas on Saturday in Carson, Calif., RSL wins the West.
Kreis said the efforts put forth this season by the club has been "nothing short of remarkable," adding he would have been thrilled with slipping into the playoffs way back in February.
But here is RSL, four days away from learning its postseason fate, in first place.
"The individual pieces on this team aren't Landon Donovans and Robbie Keanes and Clint Dempseys … the individual pieces on this team are very good, and when you add them all up and put them together and they believe in themselves and are willing to work for each other, I think we can be the best team in the league," Kreis said.
O Alvaro Saborio, pictured, and Joao Plata score two goals in a three-minute span in the second half.
• RSL's win puts the club in first place in the West and clinches at least the No. 2 seed in the conference.
• RSL finishes the regular season with a 16-10-8 record.
RSL 2, Chivas 1
Chivas USA 0 1 1
Real Salt Lake 0 2 2
First half » None.
Second half » 1, Real Salt Lake, Saborio 12 (penalty kick), 49th minute. 2, Real Salt Lake, Plata 4, 52nd. 3, Chivas USA, Morales 2 (Chueca), 77th.
Goalies » Chivas USA, Tim Melia Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando.
Yellow Cards • Schuler, Real Salt Lake, 13th Borchers, Real Salt Lake, 31st Torres, Chivas USA, 45th+ Minda, Chivas USA, 47th.
Referee • Silviu Petrescu. Assistant RefereesDaniel Belleau. Peter Manikowski. 4th OfficialIsmail Elfath.
Chivas • Tim Melia, Carlos Bocanegra, Jaime Frias, Mario De Luna, Bryan de la Fuente (Julio Morales, 76th), Edgar Mejia, Oswaldo Minda (Matthew Fondy, 76th), Carlos Borja, Eric Avila, Carlos Alvarez (Carlo Chueca, 58th), Erick Torres.
RSL • Nick Rimando, Lovel Palmer (Tony Beltran, 10th), Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Yordany Alvarez (Javier Morales, 46th), Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Joao Plata (Robbie Findley, 62nd), Alvaro Saborio.