SANDY — Real Salt Lake got halfway up the mountain Wednesday night against visiting Tigres, but no further.
Despite a great performance against the current Mexican champs and a gutty 1-1 draw, it failed to make up the two-goal deficit from the Leg 1 loss in Monterrey, Mexico last week and lost the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series on aggregate 3-1.
“Disappointed with exiting the tournament, it’s something we really wanted to push on and make it back to the finals, but really pleased with the effort our players put forth,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
By the time RSL took the field in front of sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium, its other three MLS counterparts had all lost their quarterfinal series against Mexican teams.
With an entire league’s CCL chances resting on its shoulders, Real Salt Lake rose to the occasion in a big way, and it might’ve completed the unlikeliest of comebacks had Javier Morales not missed a penalty kick late in the match.
That missed opportunity kept RSL from leveling the aggregate series, and might give Morales a few restless nights sleep.
After Juan Manuel Martinez was fouled at the edge of the penalty area — and probably inches outside it — Morales lined up to take the penalty kick in the 72nd minute. He stutter-stepped and then fired to the right of Tigres keeper Nahuel Guzman, who guessed right and pawed the ball straight up to preserve the aggregate lead.
“That goalkeeper is good, he’s very good. He’s very long. And if he goes down earlier it’s in the goal. Javy is a professional, he’s going to bounce back. It’s a PK, sometimes you get saved, it is what it is,” said Cassar.
RSL keeper Nick Rimando didn’t want to dwell heavily on the miss either.
“Obviously we missed some chances tonight, but we also missed some chances in the first leg so we can’t just hold our heads about once chance here tonight. A lot of pride went into tonight’s game and effort, and if we play like this I think the season is going to be bright for us,” said Rimando.
RSL coach Jeff Cassar made a couple of attacking substitutions in the final 10 minutes to push forward for the aggregate equalizer, but it all went for not when Tigres’ Andre Gignac scored in the 90th minute for Tigres to level the match 1-1.
Real Salt Lake will need a quick bounce back both physically and emotionally when it kicks off the MLS regular at Orlando City this Sunday, before returning home on Saturday, March 12 for its home opener with Seattle.
“We’ve got to move on. We’ve got a really important game on Sunday against Orlando and that’s where our focus is going to be now,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
After dropping the opener at Tigres last week by two goals, to have any realistic hope of advancing Real Salt Lake needed an early goal on Wednesday to put pressure on the visitors. Its trio of attacking players all made it happen in the 22nd minute.
Juan Manuel Martinez did incredibly well to bring down a Rimando scissor kick, immediately spinning around his mark and playing the ball up the right flank to Yura Movsisyan. RSL’s center striker took a couple touches toward the box, before driving a ball into the path of Joao Plata who tapped it in just before colliding with Tigres’ keeper for the 1-0 lead.
There were a handful of other very promising attacking moments in the first half for RSL, which included several last-ditch clearances by Tigres.
RSL did plenty of defending of its own in the first half, with Tigres enjoying the better of the ball throughout the first half with a 65-35 edge in possession.
The visitors rarely threatened Rimando though, finishing with zero shots on goal as RSL’s shaky backline from the opener more than held its own.
“I thought our defending was fantastic tonight, and sometimes a good attack makes for a good defense. I thought our back four, Sunny (Obayan)and Kyle (Beckerman) were running their brains out and sacrificing for each other,” said Cassar.
Real Salt Lake nearly doubled its lead in the 55th minute when a ball bounced out to Yura Movsisyan near the left post, but his powerful shot from a tight angle caromed off the crossbar. It might’ve been an easier finished had Movsisyan chosen placement over power.
Two minutes later Movsisyan had two half-chances materialize as well, but Guzman collected both shots with ease.
Cassar said the confidence his attacking players showed in just the second match of the season was a product of the first game in Mexico.
“We gained a lot of confidence down in Tigres. We didn’t get the result we wanted but we played the way we wanted and we created a lot of chances, and I think that gave us more confidence when we came home,” said Cassar.
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org