SALT LAKE CITY – Real Salt Lake’s start to the 2022 season progressed following a 2-1 victory at home against highly touted Nashville SC. The victory positions Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference standings two points clear of Minnesota United.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys as I told them,” Manager Pablo Mastroeni said. “I think that we are in the process of really trying to build a culture…when we talk about culture it is something that is sustainable and from my perspective all soccer aside if you do not have the right character, the right mentality in those people that are on the pitch trying to get results then you do not have a chance,” he added.
One Forced Change
Manager Pablo Mastroeni was forced into one change from last week’s heroic 3-2 victory in the snow against New England as acting captain Marcelo Silva was unavailable due to a toe injury and was replaced by Johan Kappelhof who was making his Real Salt Lake debut.
A Dream Start For Real
The fixture started in blistering fashion as Bobby Wood opened the scoring in the second minute following a lovely corner kick delivery by Justin Meram. Immediately, the 20,000 strong Rio Tinto home crowd was alive. It was the dream start for the home team who was looking to extend its unbeaten run to four games.
Nashville was then able to find more of the ball and control the tempo of the game, slowly, but surely, edging its way back into the contest. In the 22nd minute, Zac MacMath made what should be MLS Save of the week as he denied Hany Mukhtar from point-blank range to keep the scoreline 1-0.
“It was in 2016/17 in Colorado under Pablo [Mastroeni],” MacMath said in the post-game press conference when asked when he had felt this level of confidence.
But the momentum and persistence from Nashville eventually paid off when captain and US Men’s National Team star Walker Zimmerman punished the back of the net with a header from a wonderful free-kick. Zimmerman beat Andrew Brody and Justen Glad on his way to finding the bottom right corner of the net, MacMath could do nothing about it.
The opening 45 minutes ended in chaos when Daniel Lovitz hit the post, beating MacMath who cuddled the ball on its return from the post. Then, seconds later Real Salt Lake broke down their right side and Pablo Ruiz crossed a ball onto the open left foot of Tate Schmitt who was alone at the back post but his shot was scuffed into the pitch and over the woodwork.
The start to the second half began much like the first for Real who scored the go-ahead goal in the 54th minute when Schmitt, once again, found space on the back post from a Maikel Chang post and this time rocketed the back of the net with a vicious left-footed half volley. It was the second goal in as many matches for Schmitt who opened his professional goalscoring account seven days ago in New England.
MacMath was asked to come up big again in the second half and made a handful of stops in the 56th and 60th. It was another very impressive display from MacMath who has excelled thus far in 2022.
The Rio Tinto Stadium fans in attendance were thrilled when Pablo Mastroeni brought on Aaron Herrera midway through the second half. Herrera, who has been dealing with a nagging injury since the preseason, had yet to see any minutes in 2022. Sadly, he was brought into the game for an injured Justen Glad.
MacMath’s night only got better the longer the fixture went on. A wide-open header from Lovitz was again denied by MacMath on his goal line in the 77th minute.
Bode Davis debuted in the 83rd minute when he joined the game replacing Maikel Chang.
Real Salt Lake’s start to the season does not get any easier next week as they travel to Children’s Mercy Park for a date with Sporting Kansas City. The fixture is scheduled for Saturday, March 26, with kickoff at 5 p.m.
It will be available to stream for free via the KSL Sports and KSL 5 TV apps or on KSL Sports dot com.