Once again, Real Salt Lake fell behind early in the CONCACAF Champions League.
And once again, it responded brilliantly.
Midfielder Will Johnson scored twice in the first half, and forward Alvaro Saborio added a header in between to lift RSL from a second-minute deficit to a 3-2 victory over Arabe Unido in nearly empty Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City on Wednesday night.
"We really needed a couple of guys to show a bit more energy than we have the past couple of games," coach Jason Kreis said. "I always say, it's interesting how the players who seem to show the most energy and passion for the game are getting rewarded ... so that's good."
The victory all but assures RSL will go through to the knockout rounds of the tournament, having vaulted to the top of Group A with nine points in the first four of its six group games.
The team still plays at Toronto FC next week, and at home against Mexico's Cruz Azul on Oct. 19. A single point in either game probably will put it through, though a draw in Toronto definitely will.
"We're hopeful that one more solid effort on our part will put us through and we can take it easy in the last match," Kreis said.
Just like in each previous Champions League game, the team fell behind early -Â allowing Arabe's Williams Aguilar to loop a free kick over goalkeeper Nick Rimando in just the second minute.
But Johnson equalized in the 10th by firing home a rebound, before Saborio scored his sixth goal of the Champions League campaign in the 36th minute on a header off a corner from teammate Nelson Gonzalez.
"We've put ourselves in that situation multiple times in this tournament, and we've reacted very positively," Kreis said. "So I'm pleased with that."
Johnson struck again just before halftime, beating the offside trap and timing a perfect run onto a Saborio pass up the middle for an easy finish.
That made it 3-1, and assured RSL would hold on for the victory even though Arabe's Mario Sergio Angulo converted a questionable penalty kick against RSL's Tony Beltran in the 53rd minute.
The victory also was the first outside the United States for RSL, which nearly pulled off an upset at Cruz Azul last month but lost 5-4 in a wild finish.
Real Salt Lake at Arabe Unido
P At Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City
Kickoff • Today, 6 p.m. MDT
TV • Fox Soccer Channel (9 p.m. tape)
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
Records in CCL • RSL 2-1-0, Arabe Unido 1-2-0
All-time series • RSL leads 1-0-0
Last meeting • RSL 2, Arabe Unido 1 (Aug. 18, 2010)
About RSL • It's unbeaten in its last five games in all competitions, and 11 of the last 12. â¦ Forward Alvaro Saborio has scored five goals in three Champions League games, three of them from the penalty spot. â¦ It's trying to improve on a 4-19-9 record for MLS teams playing in Central America.
About Arabe Unido • It's coming off a 6-0 home loss to Mexico's Cruz Azul in its last Champions League game last week. â¦ Forward Fidel Caesar and midfielder Armando Cooper have scored their only two goals in Champions League.
CONCACAF Champions League standings
GP W L T GF GA Pts
Real Salt Lake 4 3 1 0 13 9 9
Cruz Azul 4 2 1 1 12 6 7
Toronto FC 4 1 2 1 3 6 4
Arabe Unido 4 1 3 0 4 11 3
Top two teams advance to knockout rounds.
Tuesday, Sept. 28
• Real Salt Lake at Toronto, 6 p.m.
• Cruz Azul (Mexico) vs. Arabe Unido (Panama), 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 19
• Toronto vs. Arabe Unido, 6 p.m.
• Cruz Azul at Real Salt Lake , 8 p.m.
RSL 3, Arabe Unido 2
R Midfielder Will Johnson scores twice in the first half as RSL rallies to win its second Champions League game, all but assuring its spot in the tournament's knockout rounds.
• RSL needs just one point in its final two games to advance in the tournament.