SANDY, Utah -- Real Salt Lake did everything it needed in order to advance out of its CONCACAF Champions League group - except score. A sellout crowd of 20,436 braved rain and sub-40-degree weather to watch their team dominate the match but ultimately get shut out in a scoreless draw by CS Herediano, a result which ushered them out of the competition and gave the group win to the visitors.
RSL needed a 1-0 or a two-goal win by any other margin, but without leading scorer Alvaro Saborio, it lacked the finishing touch to break through. Saborio was suspended due to card accumulation.
"We know [Saborio] is an important player and he always seems to be able to make that crucial play in the penalty box to make the difference," said Salt Lake boss Jason Kreis. "We were doing all the things that you need to do to win big games like this except that final touch. It just came down to one player making one play."
Since its MLS Cup win in 2009, Real has not performed well in must-win games, posting an 0-3-1 record in Champions League and MLS playoff elimination games.
Salt Lake did a good job forcing the issue in the early minutes as Herediano was content to sit in and feel out the game. In the sixth minute, Real should have found the opener off the foot of Fabian Espindola. The Argentine found himself in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, nudged it around him, but then shot his effort over the open net. Had he scored, it certainly would have changed the dynamic of the match.
"Yeah, the team played really good," said Espindola. "I had my chance and I didn't score. It's my fault in that case because we played right and I didn't score."
Herediano eventually found some success counterattacking, and quite nearly put RSL in an almost insurmountable hole in the 25th minute. A corner was headed toward the post, but Luis Gil showed some good discipline by staying on his post and clearing it off the line to preserve the clean sheet. RSL nearly answered just three minutes later via a header of its own, but Leo Moreira made an outstanding diving save at full extension to deny Salt Lake.
The remainder of the first half was mostly dictated by Real, with a few promising moments from the visitors scattered in. Moreira was the MVP of the first half - were it not for his heroics, RSL would likely have scored multiple goals. Salt Lake outshot Herediano 12 to three in the first half and enjoyed more than 60% of the possession.
"It was pretty clear which team dominated tonight and which team had the better position and won more of the 50/50 balls," said center back Nat Borchers. "We were more dangerous. We just couldn't find that final touch and that was the difference in the result."
The second half saw Herediano change tactics a bit as it sat in even more than in the first half. Salt Lake was more eager to go forward and it nearly resulted in a Herediano goal on a few counterattacks. The most dangerous of those came in the 57th minute when Chris Schuler made a bad turnover with most of his teammates upfield. The breakdown resulted in Yendrick Ruiz hitting the post from just inside the 18.
Real continued to have most of the possession throughout the half, but quality chances were fewer to come by thanks to Herediano's very organized defense. Salt Lake was afforded time and space everywhere on the field except around goal where it met an impenetrable wall of white every time.
"Herediano made it very, very difficult in the second half, literally putting 11 players in their penalty box," said Kreis. "I was expecting Herediano to come out and play a little more soccer than they did tonight and not muddle up the game like they did."
Herediano salted away the final minutes of the draw with a combination of tight defending, possession, and unfortunately, some theatrics.
"We knew that this was going to be their game plan," said Borchers. "It's really a shame when teams do that. They make a mockery of the sport."
Real wraps up its regular season this Saturday at home against Vancouver before locking horns with Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
"I think in some ways it's a good thing that we have a game on Saturday," said Kreis. "Another match for us to get turned around and then playoffs start very quickly after that. We've got to feel sorry for ourselves a little bit tonight and then move forward."
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