Mexico’s Tigres UANL shut out Real Salt Lake 1-0 in Leagues Cup match

Sandy • Around Rio Tinto Stadium a couple of hours before kickoff, the atmosphere did not feel like a regular Real Salt Lake game.

In the gravel parking lot near the stadium, a Spanish-language band played. Inside the stadium, one man made his way to his seats while holding two cups of horchata, a milky drink popular in Latin American communities. Fans trickled in donned in yellow jerseys that read “Tigres.”

But in some aspects, it felt very much like a regular RSL game. The team had plenty of chances to score and played a solid game at home on both sides of the ball. But at the end of the night, it left with a missed opportunity.

“We didn’t really create a whole lot,” Nick Besler said. “We had three chances probably that we could have scored. But we didn’t put them away. At home, we just have to create more chances.”

The game between RSL and the reigning Liga MX champions in the inaugural Leagues Cup had plenty of intrigue, provided plenty of excitement and was complete with competing chants throughout. But it was Tigres that came away with the 1-0 win over RSL, advancing them to the semifinal round of the tournament next month.

Real, meanwhile, bowed out in the first game of a midseason tournament for the second time this season. It lost to LAFC in the quarterfinal round of the U.S. Open Cup last month. The good news: It doesn’t count against its MLS record.

Eduardo Vargas broke the seal on the game in the 58th minute with a shot from about 35 yards. The ball hit RSL defender Justen Glad on its way to the goal, which may have been the reason goalkeeper Nick Rimando couldn’t catch up to it in time.

In the early going, both teams had legitimate chances at an early goal. In the fourth minute, Jefferson Savarino dribbled into the box and found space for a shot, but it was saved by Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán. A few minutes later, Tigres had the ball deep in the box, but the play was broken up by RSL’s center backs.

In the first half, the Tigres outshot Salt Lake 7-2 and had two shots on goal to Real’s one. It was RSL’s defense that shined in the first 45 minutes, and it had better quality chances at goals.

The Tigres ended with more possession, more total shots and more more completed passes.

“They’re a quality team,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “We were chasing shadows at times.”

Case in point: After a short corner kick, Joao Plata floated a pinpoint cross to the head of Damir Kreilach, who got a good strike on it. If it weren’t for Guzmán’s outstretched hand, that may have been a goal for RSL.

Forward Corey Baird found the back of the net in the second half, but was called offsides. In the 55th minute, Joao Plata intercepted a pass and was one-on-one with a Tigres defender. His shot nutmegged the defender and went past Guzmán, but banged off the far post. Those were the best chances for RSL in the second half.

Late in the game, RSL defender Brooks Lennon was sent off with a red card for a hard tackle with a high boot on a Tigres player. Moments later, after a small skirmish between the two teams, Savarino took a shot at the goal on a free kick, but that was also saved by Guzmán, who tallied two saves on the night along with Rimando.

In advance of Wednesday’s Leagues Cup opener, RSL management said it was taking the tournament seriously. The starting lineup was indicative of that sentiment, with Nick Besler, Erik Holt and Plata being the only players in the 11 who weren’t regular starters.

Notes: A cat ran onto the field and briefly disrupted play in stoppage time. … Petke received a red card after the game was over for arguing with a referee.