SANDY — Real Salt Lake’s losing streak is no more.
Sam Johnson and Damir Kreilach scored on either side of halftime to help Real Salt Lake snap a four-match skid Saturday night with a 2-1 win over Orlando City SC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Johnson’s goal, which he scored in the 17th minute in front of 16,770 fans, was the Liberian international’s first goal in an RSL uniform since arriving in February on a designated player contract.
“I thought it was a gritty performance at times. I thought it was a very well-played performance by us sometimes, and I thought it was a bit nervy sometimes,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “But at the end of the day, it’s three points.”
Kreilach doubled the advantage just after halftime, redirecting a cross on the counter from Jefferson Savarino to give RSL a 2-0 lead 10 minutes after the break. The Croatian-born midfielder notched his second marker of the season after leading the team in scoring a year ago.
Nani pulled one back for Orlando with about 10 minutes remaining in regulation, converting a free kick from just outside the penalty box that bent around the defensive wall and tipped off goalkeeper Nick Rimando and into the upper left corner.
“That’s the quality from Nani to score on the free kick,” Kreilach said of the Portuguese international. “But at the end of the day, the three points are the most important.”
After four-straight weeks of losses, four-straight chances to taste defeat and falling shortly — often by a lot — Salt Lake finally ended a match with a boost of three points in the standings.
No wonder Kreilach celebrated so hard when he finished off Savarino’s nutmeg inside the penalty box for what amounted to be the game winner.
“Of course, we were hungry,” Kreilach said. “There was a lot of emotion in the situation, and because of that, we celebrated.”
Orlando out-scored RSL 3-0 in the first 15 minutes. But Johnson deftly put the home side ahead 1-0 with a counter-attacking run inside the box in the 17th minute, finishing past goalkeeper Brian Rowe for the early advantage.
The first-year designated player signee scored his first goal in a Real Salt Lake uniform, in only his second start after coming off the bench in four of RSL’s first five games of the year.
“It’s very, very important as a striker,” Johnson said of his first career goal in MLS. “The people who came to watch the game, they don’t care unless you score.
“They don’t care how much you dribble or do anything with the ball; they will start to say, ‘he can do everything, but he still can’t score.’ Scoring a goal as a striker is very good. It makes you more confident, and it makes you accept that is the only thing.”
Everton Luiz left the match with a left knee injury midway through the first half. The defensive midfielder, who was replaced by Nick Besler, went down on a non-contact play in the first half and struggled to exit the field with assistance from the medical staff.
The Brazilian midfielder will have an MRI in the coming days to determine the full extent of the damage. Besler, for his part, played well in his 62 minutes off the bench, plus stoppage time.
“I don’t need to say much about Bes because he’s one professional guy,” Kreilach said. “You don’t need to take care of him. Every time, he puts in 100 percent work and he did that today. Well done.”
Real Salt Lake travels to expansion side FC Cincinnati to start a two-match road trip next Friday, April 19 at 5:30 p.m. MDT.