It didn't make up for losing the 2013 U.S. Open Cup final, but Real Salt Lake's win over D.C. United on Saturday night sure helped in the standings.
The Claret-and-Cobalt's 3-0 win lifted them into first place in the Western Conference and into a tie for first place in the Supporters' Shield race — pending the outcome of a couple of games on Sunday.
Not only that, but RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando set the all-time MLS record for career shutouts at 113, a week after he tied the mark set by retired ‘keeper Kevin Hartman. And Rimando did it against the team that traded to him to Salt Lake in 2007.
It looked pretty clearly like it was going to be RSL's night when, in the 11th minute, diminutive forward Joao Plata — all 5-foot-2 of him — scored his 10th goal of the season … on a header. It was the first time he'd done that this season.
Just two minutes later, RSL midfielder Javier Morales put the ball between the legs of a D.C. defender and Chris Schuler — all 6-foot-4 of him — put the ball in the net. It was the first time he'd scored a regular-season goal in 52 games, dating all the way back to Sept. 3, 2011.
But Schuler wasn't finished. In the 24th minute, Morales put the ball in front of the goal on a corner kick and it was Schuler's turn to use his head, giving RSL an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
In 11 minutes, the big defender doubled the number of regular-season goals he's scored in five seasons in Salt Lake.
DCU was lucky it didn't head into the locker room further behind — RSL had several good chances, including three shots on target that didn't go in. United was dangerous just once in the first half, but couldn't convert in the 28th minute when RSL didn't have a free kick covered.
Shutout No. 113 may have been one of Rimando's easiest. DCU had few chances throughout the match; Rimando didn't have to make a save until the 70th minute; his second came in the 86th minute. This despite the fact that RSL was playing without its two starting outside backs. Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert both missed the game because of yellow-card accumulation on controversial time-wasting cards called a week earlier in Colorado —Abdoulie Mansally and Carlos Salcedo stepped in to shore up the defense.
The best bit of luck DCU had came in the first half, when Eddie Johnson was only yellow carded for taking RSL's Salcedo down from behind. RSL wanted a red after Johnson kicked the ball at Salcedo after the whistle with the defender down on the ground.
With the win, Real Salt Lake improves to 10-4-9 (39 points) and moves into first place in the Western Conference with Seattle and into a tie for the lead in the Supporters' Shield race with Kansas City, at least temporarily. Seattle, which trails RSL by a point in the West, hosts Houston on Sunday night — and the Sounders have played three fewer games than their Utah rivals. SKC, currently tied with RSL with 39 points, plays at Vancouver on Sunday, when it will match RSL with 23 games played.
D.C. (11-7-4, 37 points) remains in second place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind SKC. United returns home to host Colorado on Sunday, Aug. 17.
DCU Lineups: Hamid, Boswell, Korb, Franklin, Birnbaum, Rolfe (Neal 69') , Arnaud, Jeffrey , DeLeon (Estrada 77'), Johnson, Silva (Espindola 49')
HOU Lineups: Rimando, Salcedo, Schuler, Borchers, Mansally; Beckerman, Mulholland, Grabavoy, Morales; Plata, Garcia
Goals: Plata 11, Schuler 13, Schuler 24
Discipline: Jeffrey 5', Johnson 30', Mansally 85'