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Julio's late winner lifts Real Salt Lake to 2-1 win over Houston

Real Salt Lake's Anderson Julio (29) celebrates his goal in the second half against Houston at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)


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SANDY — Real Salt Lake and Houston were playing toward an extremely familiar result Wednesday night.

The two sides had met twice before in the 2021 season, and with just moments remaining, another 1-1 result — that second-such scoreline in Sandy and following a scoreless draw in Houston — was nearing a possibility.

Anderson Julio said, "Not today."

Julio scored his fourth goal of his debut season with Real Salt Lake to lift the hosts over Houston Dynamo FC 2-1 in front of an announced crowd of 13,570 fans on a cold, rainy night at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Justin Meram scored the lone goal of the first half for RSL, but Fafa Picault equalized for Houston just six minutes after halftime.

"Three points is always good, no matter how they come. I think again, another game where in parts of the match we could've been way better. Give them credit; they fought and they pressed us hard. I think we've just got to figure it out on the field.

"But overall, the subs came in, made a difference, we got the second goal and we take three points at home. You've got to win your home games, no matter how they come."

Damir Kreilach nearly gave Real Salt Lake a lead just three minutes into the match, but his rising header was called offside.

No matter, Meram said. The winger took a pass from Bobby Wood and broke through in the sixth minute to slot home a right-footed shot from the center of the box that put Salt Lake up 1-0 against the Dynamo.

The goal was the first of the year for Meram and only his fourth in two years in an RSL uniform. It's the first time the journeyman MLS winger with previous stops in Columbus, Atlanta and Orlando found the back of the net since Sept. 19, 2020, a 2-1 loss to Vancouver.

"I've been knocking on the door; everyone's been joking and it's about time I could put one away," Meram said. "We did great to win the ball in the midfield, Bobby makes a great pass with the right tempo, and I ended up hitting it the first time; I'm still surprised at myself I had that much time.

"I think it was the right thing to do, clearly, because it went in."

The win, combined with Saturday's 1-0 win over fellow Texas squad Austin FC, is RSL's first two-match winning streak since May 1 — when the club opened the season with back-to-back wins against Minnesota United and Sporting Kansas City.

Houston's Tim Parker and Real Salt Lake's Damir Kreilach compete for the ball at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.
Houston's Tim Parker and Real Salt Lake's Damir Kreilach compete for the ball at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

With much of the Wasatch Front under a steady deluge of water following Wednesday's thunderstorms, the equally-underwater crew on the stadium pitch slogged to the 1-0 halftime scoreline by combing for eight shots, with Meram's goal the only shot on target of the opening 45 minutes.

It was a gritty, defensive performance in less-than-ideal conditions, but the home side figured out a way to come out ahead.

"So happy with the guys," RSL coach Freddy Juarez said. "I can't emphasize enough the mentality of every single one of our players. We need our whole roster, and it's hard as a coach to make the guys understand.

"I can't ask for more. It's hard to get 90 straight minutes of great football in this league," he continued. "I'd love to get more control for 90 minutes at home. But at the end of the day, we finished the game off well and the guys who came in helped the team get the three points."

But it took less than six minutes for the Dynamo to find their footing amid such soggy conditions.

Picault scored his fifth goal of the year for Houston, nodding home a corner kick from Darwin Ceren in the 51st minute to level the match at a goal apiece.

Houston, which fell to 3-8-9 on the season, went for the win, too, in a second half that featured a strong headwind in favor of the visitors. The Dynamo outshot RSL 8-4 in the second half, including the only shot on target through the 80th minute.

Salt Lake came alive briefly in the 81st minute, but Kreilach's attempt was saved. Same with Maikel Chang's effort in the 82nd minute, a left-footed shot from Kreilach saved down the center of the pipe.

That set up Julio's last-minute heroics, his first goal since July 7 after scoring a brace in his RSL debut.

"Of course, it wasn't the nicest win. But at the end of the day, who cares?" Kreilach said. "The most important thing is we collected the three points, and that's what it is all about."

Real Salt Lake hits the road Saturday to face regional rival Colorado. Kickoff for the Rocky Mountain Cup is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT on KMYU.

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