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CONCACAF Finals: Real Salt Lake Gets a 'Win' in Mexico

Matt JonesAnalyst IApril 21, 2011

Javier Morales (shown here in an earlier match) was the hero of the night for Real Salt Lake
Javier Morales (shown here in an earlier match) was the hero of the night for Real Salt LakeVictor Decolongon/Getty Images

I know.

I watched the match. I saw the final score.

I realize that it wasn't actually a victory, but there is a saying in soccer that a draw on the road is as good as a win.

In most competition, the result of a draw is a win-win situation for both teams. You both get a point and you move on.

On a hot Wednesday night in Monterrey, Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake got a whole lot more than a point for the draw that they played to against one of the toughest teams in Mexico.

They gained the advantage in a two leg series and are headed home for the final.

Representing Major League Soccer for the first time in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League finals, Real Salt Lake played well enough to earn a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the tournament that determines the North American Champion and who wins the right to play in the FIFA Club World Cup later this year.

Wearing their alternate yellow jerseys for only the second time in the history of the franchise, the club from Utah started out strong by keeping possession and limiting chances for the Mexican side that was supposed to dominate this match at home.

Despite the possession that Real Salt Lake was able to keep, Monterrey, known as the "Rayados," was able to strike first.

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In the 18' minute, Monterrey forward Aldo De Nigris, scored a goal on a play that was a disaster for Real Salt Lake in front of the goal. Following a missed attempt to clear the ball, it bounced all over the place, Nick Rimando dove and missed it and De Nigris put it in the back of the net to take a 1-0 lead. 

That lead did not hold for long.

On a goal that was not scored by him, Real Salt Lake forward Fabian Espindola gets a lot of credit for creating the opportunity. On what looked to be a routine ball headed to  Monterrey goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco, Espindola ran at a full sprint from well outside the box and met the keeper at the ball.

The result of the collision was Espindola winning a corner kick when the ball was last touched by Orozco as it sailed past the endline.

In the 35' minute, the corner kick came in and was cleared out by Monterrey. Unfortunately for them, it was cleared to Will Johnson, who sent a perfect ball into Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers who was still up in the box for the corner kick. He was able to put his head on the ball and bury it wide of the keeper to tie the score.

Monterrey, not happy with the score tied at one, came out aggressively after halftime and maintained possession for most of the half.

They had multiple opportunities, including a one on one between Chilean striker Humberto Suazo and Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando that sailed just wide and over the goal.

The Rayados were able to take a lead in 63' minute on a penalty kick that was a result of a hand ball in the box by Jamison Olave. Humberto Suazo was able to punch the kick into the corner of the net to gain the lead that many thought would hold up to be the final score.

Real Salt Lake, a team known for not giving up, and has a history of scoring dramatic goals late in games, was able to add one more.

In the 89' minute, a long ball was sent over the top to forward Arturo Alvarez, who had just entered the game. In his first series of touches, he settled the ball and sent an amazing pass from the sideline to his teammate Javier Morales at the top corner of the box.

The rest was all Morales.

Taking the pass, he put on a series of moves that left two defenders trailing the play. As he entered the box, and moved around the defender, he fired a strike to the far post that had just enough of an angle on it to beat the goalkeeper and even the score at two goals each.

After a few tense minutes of stoppage time, Real Salt Lake came away with a draw.

Following the match, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis talked about the result. "I think it's the best draw of my life" he said, "no doubt about it. I'm really, really proud of what the guys put into that, and I know it wasn't easy at all. It was difficult circumstances for us,"

Real Salt Lake now comes home at the halfway point of the two leg series tied in total goals, but with the very important two goals scored on the road.

Due to the aggregate scoring used in this tournament, the team who scores the most total goals in both legs of the series will be crowned the champion. The number of goals scored on the road is what is used as the first tie breaker.

In the second leg that will be played next Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, Real Salt Lake will be looking for a win in a stadium where they rarely lose.

With the two goals scored tonight it gives them a little bit of breathing room.

If they are able to win the match, or play to a draw of one goal or less for each team, they will advance. If they play to a draw and both teams score two or more goals, they will then play an overtime period followed by penalty kicks if necessary.

All of these confusing scenarios will not matter if Real Salt Lake can take care of business and get a win at home. One of the heroes of the night, Nat Borchers knows that just because they are coming home, the game will not be easy.

He stated that he was "Really happy with the way we responded both times after going a goal down. Now we have our work cut out for us at home,"

"I would think they're going to come to us with a extremely aggressive mentality knowing they have to win," added Kreis.

Each time that Real Salt Lake plays in this tournament, the game is the biggest in their history. Next Wednesday night will be no different. If Real Salt Lake is victorious, they will complete an already historic run for any Major League Soccer or any other team from the United States.

Soccer in this country will reach new heights, and the respect for American Soccer will skyrocket.

Notes: Lost in the excitement of the result for Real Salt Lake is a bit of bad news.

Captain Kyle Beckerman will have to watch the next match from the sidelines. He entered this match with a yellow card and earned another tonight on a questionable call. In this tournament, after accumulating two yellow cards, a player must sit for the next match.

Fortunately, depth is not a problem for Real Salt Lake, who have very talented players that can fill in at each position.

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