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RSL makes historic leap into Champions League finals

Published April 6, 2011 2:49 pm

Real Salt Lake becomes first MLS team to reach tournament finals.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

San Jose, Costa Rica • Jamison Olave smiled wide and cupped his hands to his ears, wondering just what the fans had to say, now.

He had to love the answer.

Nada.

Just as the tide had begun to turn against Real Salt Lake amid the din of the most hostile stadium in which it has ever played, the hulking defender knocked home a brilliant left-footed volley off a deflected corner kick to score a crucial away goal in a 2-1 loss to the Saprissa "Purple Monster" on Tuesday night to assure his team will advance to the CONCACAF Champions League title series for the first time.

"It's ecstasy, at that moment," coach Jason Kreis said.

Or agony, depending on your perspective.

The instant it happened, the roaring stadium fell silent, and Olave was able to enjoy his playful moment knowing RSL will have a chance to make history after winning the two-game series 3-2 on aggregate ­— even though striker Alvaro Saborio had little impact against his former team.

"We always knew we had the advantage and a goal would win it," Olave said through an interpreter.

Only minutes earlier, the pulsating sellout crowd at ramshackle Saprissa Stadium had erupted, when Saprissa's Luis Diego Cordero fired a long-range shot under the crossbar but over leaping goalkeeper Nick Rimando to open the scoring just as the second half was getting started. That gave the Purple Monster hope of overturing a 2-0 deficit from the first leg of the series.

But Olave's strike in the 61st minute meant Saprissa would need three more goals in the final half-hour to achieve the feat — his goal "really calmed the team down," Olave said — and that just wasn't going to happen against the best defensive team in Major League Soccer.

Saprissa needed a referee's call to score just one, in fact, on an Alonso Solis penalty kick in the 87th minute.

"That was a very tough match, man," RSL's Andy Williams said. "Especially them scoring that first goal in the second half, put us under pressure. But we fought through it, and got the result that we wanted."

RSL will advance to play either Cruz Azul or Monterrey in the tournament finals; the two Mexican teams meet in the second leg of their semifinal series at Cruz Azul on Wednesday night, with Monterrey leading 2-1 after the first leg.

Coach Kreis and his players said they didn't care which team they play. They were simply thrilled to have advanced through their trip to the intimidating Monster's Cave — even though Kreis, ever the perfectionist, wished RSL would have put on a better performance.

"Really, really pleased, obviously, with this historical moment," he said. "But I would have liked to have advanced in a little bit more impressive fashion."

However it looked, RSL can mount the monster's head on the wall now, and go hunting for an even bigger trophy.

The victory was so satisfying that captain Kyle Beckerman took a moment at the final whistle to wave goodbye to the "ultra" fans in the south stands of the stadium who had stood chanting, singing and jeering the entire game.

"We came down here and we accomplished what we wanted," Beckerman said. "So it felt great."

mcl@sltrib.com

Storylines

R lN SHORT • RSL falls 2-1 to Saprissa, but wins the two-game Champions League semifinal series 3-2 on aggregate.

KEY MOMENT • RSL's Jamison Olave volleys home a deflected corner kick in the 61st minute to assure his team would advance. —

CONCACAF Champions League finals

RSL will open the CONCACAF Champions League finals at either Cruz Azul or Monterrey on April 20, with the return leg April 27 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Tickets for the home leg are expected to go on sale Wednesday.