Real Salt Lake: RSL salvages tie with Tijuana
Sandy • The rain, at times, was unrelenting, slicing down in sheets. Random bolts of lightning flashed across every corner of Rio Tinto Stadium every now and again. Thunder shook the grounds of the stadium as an August storm sat and stalked what transpired under the lights Tuesday evening in Sandy.
Real Salt Lake’s 90 minutes against Club Tijuana was an adventure, one that ended in a 1-1 draw. But international friendlies are often awkward outings as two unfamiliar sides attempt to crack each other’s code.
Edgar Villegas initially opened the vault. The young Xolos midfielder bent in a perfect left-footed shot in the 77th minute to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
RSL 1, Tijuana 1
O RSL midfielder Luis Gil equalizes in the 88th minute with a highlight-reel goal.
» Tijuana midfielder Edgar Villegas gave the visitors the lead in the 77th minute with a left-footed shot from inside the box.
» RSL hosts Western Conference-leading Seattle at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Network.
But Luis Gil wouldn’t let it stand. Already the most dynamic player on the rain-soaked field, the 20-year-old reminded the 13,222 fans at Rio Tinto why he’s considered one of the most highly touted youngsters in American soccer. Two minutes before the clock hit 90 minutes, Gil created space in the box, freeing himself of his defender. The ball took a small bounce and Gil sliced through it, curving the ball into the top shelf to equalize.
"He had a lot of great ideas attacking-wise," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said, "but was committed on the defensive end as well. That goal was just fantastic … just his idea, his confidence to take that shot was great."
Cassar placed much of the club’s youth on display against the visiting Xolos, putting Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, John Stertzer, Devon Sandoval and Academy product Justen Glad in the starting lineup against a blend of Tijuana’s veterans and prospects. The start was Glad’s official debut with the first team since signing out of the club’s Academy in April.
The kid handled himself well against one of Mexico’s top clubs, a franchise that finished as a semifinalist in the 2014 CONCACAF Champions League tournament. Making his professional debut as a center back, Glad’s positioning was impressive as was his ability to clear dangerous chances when Xolos presented them.
"I thought he was outstanding," Cassar said of Glad. "[He] made some really good choices of passes, managed the game really well, didn’t get caught out of position too many times. We’ve seen this before from Justen in all of the reserve games. It seems every time he gets an opportunity, he steps up and plays well."
The best chances came from Gil, and came on more than one occasion.
On a throw-in during the 68th minute, substitute Olmes Garcia looked up to see a sprinting, unmarked Gil barreling toward the Tijuana goal. Garcia’s toss was perfect. Gil only had Tijuana goalkeeper Gibran Lajud to beat, but Gil’s flick toward goal was tipped and grabbed. Seven minutes later, when substitute Joao Plata played a ball toward Gil in the box, he created space and rifled a shot toward goal, only to see it ping off the crossbar.
Tuesday night was marred, however, by a serious injury to Stertzer. The RSL midfielder collided with Tijuana forward Paul Arriola in the 78th minute and came down awkwardly, grabbing at his lower right leg. He was carted off the field. Cassar said Stertzer injured his tibia, but team doctors don’t think it’s broken. The 23-year-old will have X-rays performed Wednesday, Cassar said.
"John went into a tackle that was a 50-50 tackle," Cassar said. "Not sure if it was dirty at all. A really committed tackle and a little bit unlucky."