The timing between Real Salt Lake’s Joao Plata’s ball into the penalty box and the run by forward Corey Baird into open space was familiar.
“The goal today was the same ball Joao played to me against Orlando,” Baird said after Saturday’s victory over D.C. United, “so just developing that chemistry I think has been huge for us.”
Last week against Orlando, Baird’s shot on goal after the pass was saved. On Saturday, Baird’s diving header put RSL right back into the game after trailing early, as RSL ended a two-game losing streak by beating 10-man D.C. United 3-2.
Converting chances was something RSL had struggled to do in losses against Vancouver and then Orlando, as it scored one goal on a combined 34 shots.
Going up a man in the 22nd minute Saturday gave RSL an advantage, but that wasn’t all there was to it.
“We’re just holding ourselves accountable lately,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said, “and knowing that in Orlando if we would have put a couple goals away maybe it’s a different game. So I think it was in the back of our heads. … The more goals we score, obviously it helps our young back line and the shuffle we’re doing [because of injuries], so credit to the guys up front for finishing those three goals.”
In Orlando, the failure to continue to score after claiming a lead cost Real Salt Lake, as the hosts scored three times in the second half and went on to win. Saturday night, once RSL pulled ahead, it then extended its lead over D.C. United.
Up 2-1 in the 56th minute, Rusnák found Jefferson Savarino with a pass into the penalty box. D.C. goalkeeper Steve Clark challenged him, and Savarino chipped a shot past Clark at the near post for the eventual game-winner.
“We know where our level is from what we did last year,” Rimando said after the match. “It’s taken us a little bit of time to play like that this year, but you definitely see it the last two games, this game, how we’re building, and we’re definitely getting back to where we were.”
Savarino, Baird and Rusnák scored Saturday, and Plata tallied an assist before leaving in the 43rd minute with an apparent leg injury that coach Mike Petke declined to comment on after the match Saturday. It was the third time the attacking four had played together, and the increased chemistry showed, especially with Baird’s speed in the penalty box.
“He’s not only scoring goals,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, “but he’s creating, he’s opening the defense because they have to respect his runs in behind, and once they start respecting his runs in behind, then they drop off a little bit and you can start to play a little underneath.”