21 April, 2011

RSL Halfway to CCL title

On Wednesday, April 20, Real Salt Lake accomplished half of what is likely to become an historical feat. With a 2-2 draw in Monterrey, Mexico, RSL need only to earn at least a draw with a score no higher than 1-1 in order to become the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League. They will be the third MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions Cup after DC United in 1998 and the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2000, but the first to win the Champions League in the current format. If RSL completes their mission on Wednesday in Sandy, UT, they will break a five year winning streak by Mexican clubs in the CONCACAF final, as Mexican teams have won every final from 2006 until 2010.

Wednesday's match in Monterrey looked like it would go to Los Rayados. Chilean star forward Humberto Suazo blasted a shot that forced a great save from Nick Rimando in the 9th minute. Then in the 18th minute, Luis Ernesto Perez sneaked a ball past Kyle Beckerman to Aldo de Nigris, who one-timed the ball into the net from six yards out, and Monterrey took a 1-0 lead. Very strangely, after de Nigris earned a mandatory yellow card for removing his shirt after the goal, Monterrey substituted both de Nigris and Perez, the goal scorer and creator. The move appeared to confuse the other Rayados who remained on the field, and perhaps created some hesitation to attack. Perhaps the odd decision was due to the fact that the yellow card will cause de Nigris to miss the second leg in Utah due to yellow card accumulation. Nevertheless, Monterrey were in control of the match until goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco cleared a poor back pass over his own end line for a RSL corner kick in the 35th minute. Orozco punched the ensuing corner kick away but Canadian Will Johnson of RSL controlled the clearance and sent in a cross to the big men who were still forward in the box. Nat Borchers headed in Johnson's cross for the tying goal.

Early in the second half, Monterrey took command of the match again. RSL defender Jamison Olave of Colombia knocked down a cross with his arm in the box, and Humberto Suazo converted the penalty kick in the 63rd minute to put Monterrey up 2-1. And so the score would remain until the final minute of regulation time. Kyle Beckerman, Andy Williams, and Alvaro Saborio all collected yellow cards, Beckerman will miss the second leg in Sandy, UT, due to yellow card accumulation. Ned Grabavoy and Andy Williams are expected to start in the central midfield for RSL on Wednesday. Well, expected by me, anyway. The defensive minded Grabavoy started the game in Monterrey, and was replaced by aging offensive threat Williams in the 60th minute, just before Monterrey seized the lead.

Lastly, in the 89th minute, completely against the run of play (which belonged to Monterrey for the entire second half), RSL midfielder Javier Morales of Argentina controlled the ball outside the 18 yard box, found himself unmarked for a moment, and made the most of his opportunity by blasting a long distance shot into the net to unexpectedly tie the game for RSL in the final minute. With a 2-2 tie on the road, RSL need only tie at home and allow less than two goals (a 1-1 tie or better) to win the CONCACAF Champions League. Not bad for a team who won the MLS title in 2009 as the eighth and last team to qualify for the MLS playoffs, becoming the lowest seed to win a championship in United States Major League sports history, and the first professional championship in any sport for the state of Utah.

Here is a nice summary of the game, along with Real Salt Lake's official press release, by a user known as "denz" who writes the "RSL Soapbox" column at SB Nation. And, FYI, I'm posting from my sister-in-law's house in the Chicago suburbs, but I make the effort for each and every one of you reading this. Sorry it is a day late but I've been on the road for the past 2 days.

Photo by Howard C Smith

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