SANDY -- Just as Real Salt Lake boss Jason Kreis said it would at the start of the season, it took time for all the pieces of the puzzle to come together.
With that puzzle together at last, the picture is becoming a fearsome work of art.
Young striker Olmes Garcia came off the bench to score two late goals and veteran midfielder Khari Stephenson added one in the first half as Salt Lake captured a thrilling 3-1 victory over two-time defending Major League Soccer Cup champion Los Angeles on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"I'm very pleased with the effort and the performance as a whole," Kreis said. "I still think there are some things that we need to clean up and fix. We were a stop off at times, and made some tired decisions."
Real has clearly looked its best in recent weeks, and it continued that form against one of its biggest rivals. Salt Lake is now 6-1-1 across all competitions since falling 2-0 to Los Angeles back on April 27, and has scored at least three goals in three of its last four MLS matches.
"We have played well in almost every single match, and we could have a few more points," Kreis said. "We don't need to be too concerned with that though. We have to improve and try to be our best."
The opening 45 minutes of action was nothing short of breakneck as both sides poked and prodded each other's defensive unit. Real seemingly had the better of the play early, with Stephenson sliding one just over the cross bar and then ringing on off the post on a set piece just moments later.
Stephenson, who seemed to be the beneficiary of Los Angeles' attention being directed at midfielder Javier Morales and other players, finally cracked the ice in the 44th minute when he latched onto a Findley cross from the corner. Stephenson who took a crack from 25 yards out, with Morales dummying it in the box, and sent it crashing into the back of the net after it grazed L.A. goalkeeper Brian Rowe on the way in.
The lead was short lived, however as a chipped ball, floated ping-ponged between RSL defender Nat Borchers and Gaxaxy forward Landon Donovan, before falling to the feet of Donovan, who hit a blistering shot in stride just seconds before the halftime whistle to level the scoreline at 1-1 heading into the break.
"I have had opportunities to shoot, and I will take it," Stephenson said. "I'm off on the first two and then I got it. I stepped out and he played it and the defender came to the touch. Then I had to decide if I should pass it, and I said shoot, so I shot. Sometimes you have to keep it simple. Three points it puts us closer to Dallas and it's a big win at home."
Real opened the second half much the way it had played the first, possessing and controlling the tempo and trying to limit Los Angeles' dangers counter-attack offense.
That extra percentage eventually paid off.
With clock spinning into the 84th minute and the match level, Garcia redirected the ball off his shoulder blades after a spectacular cross from Morales out of the left edge of the box to give put Salt Lake back in the driver's seat and send the highly-energized crowd of 18,962 into celebration.
"He just doesn't quit," said Kreis of Garcia. "He just goes for it."
In stoppage time, with Los Angeles pressing forward desperately for a late equalized, Morales played the ball through to Garcia just beyond the third and Garcia went one-on-one with Rowe, easily slotting home a third goal to put the match out of reach.
While Real will now take a weekend off from Major League Soccer action, not playing another league match until June 22 when it hosts Seattle, the team will be back on the pitch on Wednesday night in U.S. Open Cup play. Salt Lake hosts the Charleston Battery, a third-division side from the United Soccer League's Professional level. The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m.