Draw not enough as RSL eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League

SANDY– Real Salt Lake (2-1-1, 7 points, Group 2 #2) was eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night, failing to score the necessary goal in a 0-0 draw with Group 2 winners C.S. Herediano (3-0-1, 10 points, Group 2 #1) at a rainy Rio Tinto Stadium to fall out of the regional competition.

RSL – playing without leading scorer Alvaro Saborio – needed to win either 1-0 or by multiple goals on Tuesday night to advance to the CCL Quarterfinal Stage, which will begin next year.

Real Salt Lake controlled the first half, holding the vast majority of possession and creating several great scoring chances. RSL’s first golden opportunity came in the fifth minute. MF Javier Morales slipped FW Fabian Espindola through just left of center, allowing him to run onto the ball and touch it around onrushing Herediano GK Leo Moreira before hitting an off-balance 15-yard shot off the crossbar and out of play.

RSL DF Nat Borchers had a goal called back in the 16th minute. The big center back headed a Morales corner kick inside the right post from about eight yards out, but referee Elmer Bonilla controversially called it back for a foul by RSL.

Herediano started to settle in around the 20th minute, creating its first chance in the 22nd. FW Yendrick Ruiz led a 2-v-2 break, dribbling at the middle of the RSL defense before firing a shot wide of the left post from just outside the area.

Herediano had another opportunity in the 25th. DF Pablo Salazar got on the end of MF Carlos Hernandez’s corner kick at the right post, heading a shot down toward the far post that RSL MF Luis Gil kicked off the line.

RSL hit back after Salazar’s chance, nearly going ahead again through Borchers in the 28th. The veteran defender got on the end of another Morales set piece, heading the Argentine’s free kick from the left wing toward the top-right-corner to force Moreira into an incredible fingertip save.

Espindola had a half chance in the 33rd, but Herediano had the next real opportunity, creating another chance on the break in the 36th. DF Junior Alvarado had the look, running at the center of the RSL back four and – after no Claret-and-Cobalt DF stepped to him – hitting a shot directly at RSL GK Nick Rimando.

Real Salt Lake had a pair of chances to end the half, nearly going ahead in the 42nd and 44th minutes. The first look was set-up by a great back heel from Morales, who played MF Will Johnson in on the left side of the box with a cheeky flick. The Canadian international couldn’t take full advantage though, seeing his close-range shot stopped by a diving save from Moreira.

Morales had the second opportunity in the 44th minute, driving a long range shot toward goal that Moreira jumped to parry away.

That chance took the sides into halftime. Herediano had the first opportunity of the second half, testing Rimando in the 47th minute. Hernandez played MF Esteban Ramirez through down the right wing, allowing Ramirez to dribble into the box before blasting a hard effort that Rimando parried away.

RSL dodged a bullet in the 57th minute, when Herediano put a ball off the post. Ruiz had the chance, running onto a chipped ball in the right side of the area before ripping a low drive past Rimando and off the far post.

Real Salt Lake was forced into a substitution in the 62nd minute, when DF Chris Schuler had to come off with an apparent injury. DF Kenny Mansally replaced Schuler, coming on at left back and forcing DF Chris Wingert from the left into the middle.

RSL controlled the play from about the 60th minute on, but couldn’t create chances against Herediano’s compact, two banks-of-four defense. Sensing this, Claret-and-Cobalt head coach Jason Kreis made a pair of substitutions to liven up the attack, bringing on MF Jonny Steele for Gil in the 68th minute and MF Sebastian Velasquez on for Johnson in the 73rd.

While the changes certainly added a bit to RSL’s offense, the team still couldn’t manage to create any clear cut opportunities. Herediano defended well, putting 10 men behind the ball at times to stymie wave after wave of RSL attack.

Real Salt Lake desperately pushed for a winner in the game’s final minutes, but failed to find one. The team is now eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League, finishing second in Group 2 to Herediano, which will move onto next year’s Quarterfinal Stage. 

RSL next plays on Saturday, Oct. 27 at Rio Tinto Stadium, taking on Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the club’s MLS regular season finale. The Claret-and-Cobalt will begin its Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle the next week. Seeds, game times, game locations and broadcast information for that series have yet to be determined.

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