RSL eliminated from Champions League tourney
Sandy • The temperature of the wintery autumn air dropped. The rain continued to fall. The pressure on Real Salt Lake intensified to stomach-churning levels.
Finally, after 90 minutes of escalating drama in miserable conditions, RSL's match against Herediano ended. So did its attempt to advance in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Real Salt Lake and Herediano fought to a 0-0 draw Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, meaning the Costa Rican team advances thanks to a 1-0 advantage in the two-match aggregate.
With a sell-out crowd of 20,436 fans watching, Real Salt Lake dominated this game. After a 1-0 loss to Herediano on July 31, however, RSL needed to win by a specific margin 1-0 or by at least two goals to advance to the tournament's quarterfinals.
It didn't happen, despite an 18-6 advantage in attempted shots, including 12-3 in the first half.
Afterward, RSL coach Jason Kreis was unhappy with Herediano's willingness to "muddle up" the game, with "fake injuries" to kill time and apparently seek a draw from the outset.
"I expected Herediano to come out and play a little more soccer," he said.
RSL midfielder Will Johnson agreed.
"Yeah, it's standard when you play these teams," he said. "Diving. Time-wasting. You know exactly what you're going to get. They think that's a good way to play."
But Kreis credited Herediano keeper Leonel Moreira for thwarting Real Salt Lake, especially early in the game.
"You're always going to be a little mentally frustrated when you get clear chances and don't take advantage of them," Kreis said. "... But I'm really, really proud of our players. It came down to one player making one touch."
In the opening minutes, Herediano rarely pushed forward and seemed content to let Real Salt Lake dominate possession of the ball.
The tactic nearly backfired in the sixth minute, when Fabian Espindola fired a rocket past Moreira. But the rising ball bounced off the crossbar.
RSL nearly scored again in the 16th minute.
On a corner kick, Nat Borchers headed the ball past Moreira, but the referee ruled he committed a foul while trying to clear space and waved off the apparent goal.
Real Salt Lake had two more chances in the final three minutes of the half.
First, Javier Morales' touch pass gave Johnson a clear shot from just inside the box, but it was stopped.
Then, Morales' rising drive from distance forced Moreira to punch the ball away, leaving the teams scoreless at halftime. Kreis called RSL's play in the first half "some of our best stuff." He believed Real was "unlucky" in not scoring and forcing Heredino to play more aggressively in the second half.
"When they put 11 players in the box," Kreis said, "it's very difficult to score."
With the draw, Herediano improved to 3-1-1 in Group 2 of the Champions League.
RSL dropped to 2-1-1 and can only look forward to Saturday night's Major League Soccer regular-season finale against Vancouver.
"It's a tough one to take," said RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman. "We created enough chances to score four or five tonight, but we didn't and so we're not moving on."
R Herediano advances to the Champions League quarterfinals after a 0-0 draw with RSL.
• RSL owns an 18-6 edge in shots, but fails to score for the second straight game against Herediano.