Anderson Julio's brace helps Real Salt Lake to season-opening 2-1 win at Minnesota

(Andy Clayton-King, Associated Press)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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SANDY — Bienvenidos a la liga MLS, Anderson Julio.

Bienvenidos a Salt Lake.

Julio notched a brace in his RSL debut, and Rubio Rubin added two assists as Real Salt Lake held on for a rare 2-1 win over Minnesota United FC on Saturday at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.

After a slow half-hour start, Julio broke through with his debut goal on a counter attack in the 31st minute. He added a second just 10 minutes later — again from Rubin to give RSL a 2-1 halftime lead.

Robin Lod scored for Minnesota, which dropped to 0-2 and lost for just the second time in 11 meetings with Salt Lake.

In the end, there was no arguing over the game ball — or whether goalkeeper David Ochoa was "not very good" in his season debut for RSL, as Minnesota coach Adrian Heath told the local television affiliate's post-match show.

All that mattered is the three points.

"We're not going to fight over the ball. I think we both know the most important thing is to win," Rubin told Salt Lake media via conference call after the match. "I'm just happy to be able to help the team win, and play my part.

"It gives us a load of confidence going into next week. This is my first MLS game ever, so to be able to get my legs under and see what it is like, it feels good. It only gives me confidence for next week."

The Ecuadorian had two goals and accounted for half of RSL's shots on goal in his debut before coming off in the 70th minute for Justin Meram.

Moments later, in the 78th minute, young Honduran international Douglas Martinez Jr. replaced Rubin as the former U.S. international who most recently played for San Diego Loyal in the second-division USL Championship retired for the night with his two assists.

Success breeds confidence, and more confidence breeds chemistry — an important first step for two of RSL's newest signings (a team still waiting on incoming forward Bobby Wood to arrive from Germany, no less).

RSL brought in the new attackers because they thought they could help a team that scored the fewest goals in the Western Conference last year, head coach Freddy Juarez said. On Saturday, they did just that.

"They've been having a very good preseason, and it wasn't any different today," Juarez added. "It's always great to start on the front foot, for confidence, for the fans, to see why the front office brought them in.

"We felt like they were players who would help us. And they did … They were very unselfish, worked hard for the team defensively, and then were rewarded with their opportunities."

Minnesota held the majority of early chances, out-shooting the visitors 4-2 through the first 30 minutes of play. But RSL took the early advantage on the counter, with Anderson Julio scoring his first goal in his debut match with Salt Lake in the 31st minute to go up 1-0.

Scoring early for new attacking talent gives "confidence," said RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak, who captained the team in the first match of the 2021 season. The moment he received the captain's armband was "an honor," Rusnak added. But it wasn't as big as helping his team capture all three points in their season opener.

Julio doubled the advantage with his second goal in the 41st minute, slicing a right-footed shot from the center of the box from Rubin that gave RSL a 2-0 halftime edge.n Minnesota had the possession — close to 60% of it at halftime — but Salt Lake was lethal on the counter, with Rubin taking advantage United's high line and RSL converting on two of its first three shots on goal.

Team above individual — just like Rubio's role in the second, critical goal of RSL's young season.

"We've been talking about a team above individuals for the past couple of years, but really this preseason, we spent some time talking about what it means," Rusnak said. "We're not just saying it for the sake of it, but actually doing it on the field and in training.

"I think that second goal was that classic act. If someone is in a better position, clearly like that, then why not? He made a great decision, it gave us a second goal, which was really crucial. Hat's off to Rubio for that."

Minnesota — the franchise, not the state — had not been kind to RSL in its first 10 meetings since joining Major League Soccer in 2017. Salt Lake had just one win in its previous 10 meetings with the Loons, with

None of that history — one that could also extend to several of RSL's run-ins via the U.S. Open Cup with the lower-division Minnesota Thunder — mattered on Saturday night. All that mattered was Julio was in form, Rubin was unselfish, and Real Salt Lake will head into the third week of the regular season undefeated.

There's plenty to work on. But for the first match of the season — and first in MLS, in the case of the attacking talent — the job was done.

"It wasn't the prettiest game," Rubin said. "There's a lot of work to improve on. But let's be honest; it's the first game of the season. It's been five months since I played a game.

"We're looking forward to continuing to prove. We have a lot more to give."

The club will host rival Sporting Kansas City next Saturday in the 2021 home opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 noon MT.

"At times on the road, it isn't going to be pretty," Rusnak said. "But three points on the road is big, and now we'll move on to Sporting KC."

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for since 2015, while also mixing in prep sports, education, and anything else his editors assign him to do.


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