SANDY — The rest of Major League Soccer might want to take notice — Real Salt Lake is back. OK, that's not entirely true, but there were signs of life from RSL in its 3-1 thrashing of Toronto FC on Saturday night that haven't been there since the Champions League.
In fairness, the coming-out party came against the worst defense in MLS, but capitalizing on that mediocrity and picking up the full three points was a very positive step for a team that's lost its way lately.
"I feel like our club has been improving and the team's been improving over the past several weeks and I think this was another positive step for us, and I'm hoping it's going to continue forward," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, whose team won for the first time since June 4.
RSL still trails the L.A. Galaxy by nine points in the Western Conference standings, which is why prior to the match Nat Borchers said it was a "must-win" situation.
"If we come out of this game with a tie or a loss we're definitely looking at ourselves in the mirror," said Borchers.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the victory was Alvaro Saborio, who scored twice — his first MLS goals of the season — following a one-month absence while away with the Costa Rican National Team for the Gold Cup.
"The contribution was hugely important for us, and probably more important for him, but I think we're both going to be benefactors of that," said Kreis.
With the worst defense in MLS in town, Real Salt Lake knew Saturday was probably a great opportunity to snap out of its funk. Sure enough, the visitors seemed overwhelmed from the opening minute with RSL on the front foot early and often.
It took a while for the floodgates to open, but they eventually did in a big, big way.
In the 39th minute, Borchers put RSL in front 1-0 after slipping past Toronto defender Doneil Henry and powerfully heading home a corner kick by Kyle Beckerman.
"When you're able to put pressure on a team like we did in the first half, you're able to create chances, you're able to be dangerous in their half of the field, something is going to happen. I think we did that. My goal was a result of all the hard work we put in," said Borchers.
Just three minutes later, Saborio got in on the scoring, tapping home a Robbie Russell diagonal ball through traffic. Several Toronto defenders were in position to clear the driven cross, but let it go thinking perhaps it would bounce out of bounds. Instead, Saborio snuck between two defenders and finished from three yards out.
It was Saborio's first goal since March 15 against Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions League.
"I think I work hard, I try to help the team every time," said Saborio. "I started to score goals, and I'm happy about that"
Saborio was questionable heading into the match, but Kreis gambled and started him up top with 17-year-old Luis Gil — who was making just his second MLS start and first at forward.
Both players were bright early as RSL dominated the first half, outshooting Toronto 9-3 and 6-0 with shots on goal.
For a team that hasn't been able to generate any momentum in the past two months, it wasn't about to let up after halftime with the 2-0 lead. It continued to put Toronto under heavy pressure, and Saborio was rewarded with his second goal in the 60th minute after Toronto's Henry whiffed while trying to clear a dangerous ball into the box by Russell.
Toronto managed to pull a goal back in the 66th minute to make it 3-1 as Maicon Santos did well to finish an opportunity after Jamison Olave slipped at midfield.
In the end, it couldn't overcome its typically porous defense.
"It's a start. I don't think we're out of the water yet. It was a good result, something we needed. Good for some confidence, but we've still got a ways to go," said Beckerman.
Real Salt Lake will jump right back into action on Tuesday as it hosts lower-division Wilmington in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16.