SALT LAKE CITY — Exhale, Real Salt Lake fans.
Easier said than done, right?
Albert Rusnak converted a penalty kick, Corey Baird and Sam Johnson each added a goal, Andrew Putna stopped a penalty, and Real Salt Lake held off winless Colorado for a wild 3-2 win Saturday night in Commerce City, Colorado.
Baird’s goal was jaw-dropping, but Johnson’s goal — his fourth goal in the past five games — was the game-winner. The native Liberian took a deflection off the Colorado defense and rocketed home a goal falling away from short range to give RSL (4-6-1, 13 points) a much-needed win after back-to-back defeats.
"My head's pounding and I'm pretty sure I'm going to wake up tomorrow without a voice," RSL coach Mike Petke told team reporter Samantha Yarock after the match.
Added Rusnak: "It took pretty much everything. Hard work, some quality at times, the effort, runs in behind, knowledge to possess.
"The game had to go long. And with a bit of luck, we were able to get three points."
Perhaps Putna put it best when he called the full 90 minutes — plus close to 10 minutes in stoppage time — a "nervy, nervy game."
"We're just so happy to take away the three points," said Putna, who made three saves. "We talked about starting the second half strong and then give up that goal two minutes in. But the guys put it together. Sam stepped it up, scored, and we’re just really happy to get the win."
After Bofo Saucedo drew a penalty just over 20 minutes into the match, Rusnak stepped to the penalty spot to take RSL’s fifth penalty kick of the 2019 campaign. The Slovakian international calmly put it past Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard, and Salt Lake was off and running.
Which is exactly how to describe Corey Baird’s goal barely a minute later. The reigning MLS rookie of the year sprinted downfield, eager to latch onto a long ball from Nick Besler.
Baird connected with the pass, dished it by a Colorado defender, and split two more backs as Howard came well off his line to defend — only to watch helplessly as Baird doubled the advantage in the 27th minute.
Less than 10 minutes later, disaster nearly struck. Justen Glad was initially sent off with a red card following what appeared to be a studs-up tackle.
But after video review, head official Robert Sibiga overturned the call, handing Glad a yellow card for a reckless challenge instead around the 37th minute.
It was the perfect start for RSL, which looked to make their Rocky Mountain rivals pay after a two-match losing skid. Colorado was fresh off firing its head coach and winless in the first 10 games of the regular season.
But Kellyn Acosta breathed new life into the Rapids in first-half stoppage time, pulling one back to cut the deficit to 2-1 at the break.
In the words of Baird to RSL sideline reporter Samantha Yarock at halftime: "Momentum's gone."
Yes, it was, Bairdy — and even more so two minutes after the break.
That was when Danny Wilson headed home a corner kick for Colorado to draw level in the 47th minute. But the stalemate lasted less than six minutes.
Johnson, the first-year designated player, used his speed to give the lead back to Real Salt Lake in the 53rd minute, and Putna saved a penalty kick moments later to preserve the edge.
"After giving up that second goal, I got an opportunity to redeem myself," Putna told Yarock. "I think I did with that save."
This game had a little bit of everything. But what else would you expect from a rivalry series that dates back to RSL's expansion season of 2005?
The game saw four distinct stoppages to consult video-review technology, including a stoppage-time would-be-equalizer by Colorado that was called offside.
The Rapids narrowly out-shot RSL, 16-15, and both teams combined for 13 shots on goal. But when the dust had settled, Salt Lake returned home with three points — and the Rapids continue to search for their own for the first time this season.
"The biggest thing is the three points, to move up to the table, to get another win on the road," Rusnak said. "It's a good feeling. And the Rocky Mountain Cup on top of that is just a bit more special."
Real Salt Lake returns home Saturday, May 18 to host Toronto FC at Rio Tinto Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. MDT on KMYU and KSL.com.