Diego Fagundez and Bjorn Runstrom scored either side of a Nico Muñiz equalizer as the New England Revolution clinched a spot in the Desert Diamond Cup championship match with a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Fagundez put the Revs on top with his first preseason goal in the eighth minute only for Muñiz to equalize with a long-range strike three minutes later. Runstrom – an unsigned training camp participant – scored what proved to be the game-winner for New England in the 56th minute, cleaning up the rebound after Fagundez’s initial effort struck the underside of the crossbar.
It was the Revolution’s sixth consecutive victory this preseason and the win improved the club’s record to a perfect 3-0-0 in the group stage of the Desert Diamond Cup following triumphs over the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls. The Revs will close out their preseason schedule with a rematch against the Galaxy in the competition’s championship match on Saturday, March 3, at 10 p.m. ET.
Both Kevin Alston (R calf) and A.J. Soares (R knee) made their Desert Diamond Cup debuts after being held out of the competition’s first two matches for precautionary reasons, while Ryan Guy (R calf) made his preseason debut after missing extensive time through injury. Much of the Revolution’s starting core – including Benny Feilhaber, Shalrie Joseph, Matt Reis and Kelyn Rowe – were rested after playing 90 minutes in last weekend’s 2-0 win over New York.
The Revs pressed from the opening whistle and twice Fagundez tested RSL goalkeeper Kyle Reynish inside six minutes, first with a 20-yard drive just 20 seconds into the match and then with a firm header from Florian Lechner’s left-wing cross five minutes later.
Fagundez finally beat Reynish at the third attempt, opening the scoring in the eighth minute. Zack Schilawski picked the ball off Reynish’s foot as the two battled for a loose ball at the top of the box before laying the ball across the face of goal for Fagundez, who finished easily into the vacated net.
New England’s lead lasted barely two minutes, however, as Real Salt Lake pulled level through Muñiz in the 11th minute. A half-cleared corner kick fell to Muñiz near the top of the right side of the box and the RSL midfielder settled the ball before sending a rising drive into the near upper corner.
The action settled down after the frantic opening and neither side seriously tested the opposing goalkeeper before the halftime break. Salt Lake’s Emiliano Bonfigli had the best chance, firing high from inside the box after receiving a clever back-heel from Terukazu Tanaka in the 33rd minute.
It didn’t take long for the score to change following the interval, however, as Runstrom restored the Revolution’s lead in the 56th minute. The sequence began when Runstrom blocked an RSL clearance, sending Fagundez racing in alone. The teenager’s curling shot beat Reynish and ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar, but Runstrom was on hand to bury the follow-up with a close-range header.
Unsigned training camp participant Austin da Luz almost added a third for the Revs in the 61st minute when he forced Reynish into a sprawling save with a left-footed rocket from distance.
Real Salt Lake threatened to pull even again in the 72nd minute when Kyle Beckerman sprung Fabian Espindola, but the Argentinean took a heavy touch and allowed Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth to charge off his line and cut out the danger. Beckerman pulled the strings again in the 81st minute to set up Jonny Steele for a close-range header, but his shot bounced wide of the left post and the effort proved to be RSL’s last serious chance.