SANDY — On any other night, Albert Rusnak’s laser from 20 yards away would’ve been the talk of Real Salt Lake — and Major League Soccer — in a 3-1 win over Eastern Conference contender New York City FC.
On a few of those other nights, the man of the match would’ve been Jefferson Savarino, who had a goal and an assist. And it would’ve been well-deserved.
Neither one of will be remembered for Saturday night, though.
Take a bow, Nick Besler.
Maybe you know him by the goal, or by the one word teammate Justen Glad had to describe it.
“Spectacular,” Glad whistled after the game. “I mean, it was Nick. He’s a holding mid, you know?”
The defensive midfielder-and-part-time center back scored a backheel goal that slipped inside the far post, then sheepishly turned to his teammates with an expression that seemed to say, “Who, me?” as mobs surrounded him in front of an announced crowd of 18,282 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Who, me?! 😏 pic.twitter.com/SiqDfYAXsU— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) August 4, 2019
And though his goal — the first of the season and second of his five-year MLS career — won’t go down as the game-winner, it might as well be from the RSL locker room’s perspective.
And on his father’s birthday, no less.
“I think my teammates were pretty surprised that I pulled that off,” Besler said. “I just told them that I can pull that off sometimes.
“Sometimes is probably the key word.”
RSL’s defenders coach Tyrone Marshall even compared him to MLS’s all-time goal-scoring leader, Chris Wondolowski.
“Nick is one of those players who, for some reason, the ball gets attracted to him,” Marshall said. “He’s like the Wondolowski of our team. Nick is always in a good position; he’s just one of those guys who will die for the team. He works his tail off, and he’ll throw his body at things.”
While Besler has a ways to go to catch Wondo’s record, Saturday night was a pretty good start.
“I guess I’ll take it. I’m kind of a poacher, in a sense,” said the younger brother of Sporting Kansas City and U.S. center back Matt Besler. “You just have to have a sense of where the ball might go, and that’s happened on that one.”
It was almost enough to make Real Salt Lake (10-9-4, 34 points) forget about the way the match started — with New York City FC captain Alexander Ring finished off a well-struck shot from near the corner of the box inside the near post just four minutes in.
But maybe that was just the wake-up call Real Salt Lake needed.
At least, it seemed to be for Savarino.
The Venezuelan international stroked home his third shot of the match in the 37th minute, lofting a ball from the just off the corner of the six-yard box to tie the proceedings at 1-1. Credit goes to Kyle Beckerman for the assist, after the captain had a phenomenal redirecting header on the same sequence. But perhaps equal due should go to Marcelo Silva, who won possession back for RSL by rising like a salmon at midfield and prompting a quick counter attack.
Savarino’s strike was RSL’s only shot on goal of the first half. But it was enough to carry the home side to a stalemate until the 75th minute.
That’s when Rusnak turned and spun a rocket inside the far post to give Real Salt Lake its first lead of the match. The Slovakian international left no doubt on a shot from 20 yards away that left NYC goalkeeper Sean Johnson diving at air as the ball singed the back of the net.
“I think it was Kyle who said ‘shoot’ from behind,” Rusnak said. “As soon as I heard that, I saw there was a little bit of movement on the ball and the keeper has less time to react. What more do I say? If we score a goal like that, or a tap-in, we’ll take it; any goal will do. It’s all for the team.
“Whomever can help the team by securing three points, that’s what’s important.”
Besler finished off the scoring with cheeky backheel goal, redirecting Savarino’s strike with two minutes left in regulation to cap an eventful evening in the second game of head coach Mike Petke’s three-match suspension for foul language directed at a referee during a Leagues Cup game.
“He came in the game to do the defensive side of the game,” Rusnak said. “But it’s always a bonus whenever a defensive player scores a goal. I’m sure it worked out for him.”