Catharsis at RioT: Real Salt Lake relieved to return to old winning ways vs. former boss Jason Kreis

“The guys really put in an unbelievable effort,” said RSL head coach Jeff Cassar, who took over for Kreis last season. “That was really, really close to a complete game that we keep striving for.”

SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake showed their pedigree for the first time this season, and it just so happens it occurred in front of the man who started it all.

RSL cruised to a 2-0 win Saturday night over visiting New York City FC in what was easily their most comprehensive victory of the season, spoiling the return of former head coach Jason Kreis and a bevy of former players and coaches. Kreis, who starred as a player at RSL before becoming head coach in 2007 and leading the team to its first MLS Cup title in 2009, took over expansion side NYCFC in 2013.

It was just one of the many storylines present on the night at Rio Tinto Stadium. Injured stars Javier Morales and Joao Plata made their returns to the gameday roster, with both coming into the match in the second half with the latter making his first appearance of the season as a late-game substitute.

And oft-injured midfielder John Stertzer netted his first career MLS goal to open the scoring in the 25th minute.

It all represented a return to RSL’s perennial-playoff-contender form fans are used to seeing at Rio Tinto, a big rebound from their 4-1 loss last weekend against the Montreal Impact.

“The guys really put in an unbelievable effort,” said RSL head coach Jeff Cassar, who took over for Kreis last season. “That was really, really close to a complete game that we keep striving for.”

The 24-year-old Stertzer, making just his second start this season in place of Jordan Allen, who is on international duty with the US U-20 national team, slipped unnoticed behind New York’s defense thanks to a perfectly placed header from forward Devon Sandoval and curled a left-footed shot past City goalkeeper Josh Saunders to put RSL ahead. It was a sweet moment for the Maryland product and the 12th-overall pick in the 2013 SuperDraft after his rookie season was cut short by a separated shoulder and a fractured tibia cost him most of 2014.

“He’s been through a lot, with the leg break and the year before that, the shoulder,” midfielder Luke Mulholland said after the match. “But slowly but surely he’s just been creeping up the ladder in practice, and he’s deserved his chance to start, obviously. I feel like he’s taking his chance and greatly deserved a goal. I’m very happy for him”

Cassar was even more effusive in his praise, saying that “[Stertzer] did everything we asked for and more. John is a very talented player. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what he’s able to do.”

RSL piled on in the second half, this time with Saborio doubling the lead off a header in the 49th minute thanks to some brilliant service from Mulholland, making it 2-0.

To top it off, Morales returned to the field after missing three straight games, coming on in the 68th minute, and Plata’s cameo represented his long-awaited return from a broken bone in his foot. Both received hearty welcomes from the lively crowd.

“The only way is up,” Mulholland said. “Obviously you heard the reaction that Plata got when he stepped on the field. It’s always great to see that little man running around.”

The RSL veteran Morales, who was reunited with old teammates Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez, now all with NYCFC, summed up the evening best.

“You play against old friends, Wingert, Grabavoy, Velasquez, Jason’s on the bench; everyone you know?” Morales said. “It was a good atmosphere on the field with our people. You know Plata is coming back, and we won. So I think it was a great night for everyone.”

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