Matt VanOekel posted a shutout in his first MLS start and short-handed Real Salt Lake played the New York Red Bulls to a 0-0 draw on Saturday in Harrison, New Jersey.
The 6-foot-4 VanOekel — starting in place of Nick Rimando, who is off on international duty — made all three of his saves in the second half. Fredrik Gulbrandsen weaved through four defenders into a clearing in the center of the box but VanOekel made the one-handed stop, diving to his right to poke it away in the 63rd minute.
Then, in the 79th, he denied Bradley Wright-Phillips from close range before making another diving save in injury time, turning away Alex Muyl’s shot from the top of the box.
“It was incredible,” VanOekel said of his first MLS start. “It was a dream come true. It’s taken me ten years to get to the MLS. I’m glad that I was able to showcase my stuff today and hopefully the coaching staff knows that I can step in when Nick is gone on international duty.”
New York’s Luis Robles had four saves for his second clean sheet of the season. The Red Bulls (2-2-1), who were without Sacha Kljestan, Derrick Etienne Jr. and Michael Murillo (international duty with the United States, Haiti and Panama, respectively), have 10 shutouts during their 16-game home unbeaten streak.
It was RSL’s first match under interim head coach Daryl Shore. Shore replaced Jeff Cassar, was dismissed on Monday. Real Salt Lake was also without Albert Rusnak (international duty with Slovakia) and Kyle Beckerman, who received two yellow cards in its game with the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 18.
“It was a difficult week early in the week,” Shore said. “But what we told the players is how unfortunate it is. This is the business that we’re in. We told our players you guys are professional soccer players and you’re paid to play soccer. We’re coaches and we’re paid to coach. So once the news came out, everybody had their issues with it, but we got on the field Tuesday and had a really good, competitive day of training, and then Wednesday we got into our tactical issues with the Red Bulls and came here.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, but we persevered. Really proud of our group tonight.”