After a strong performance against Columbus Crew in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, Real Salt Lake wanted to show that dominance in the first of the semi-finals against Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa. From the first minute on, RSL never took their foot off the gas pedal and the man who led the charge all night long was Argentine Forward Fabian Espindola as he never wavered one bit as he assisted on a goal and scored one himself.
The first goal of the match was converted in the ninth minute when Espindola attacked along the near side and crossed a hard ball towards Alvaro Saborio, who was just outside the Saprissa area. He felt two defenders rushing at hi,m so he smacked a hard shot past Saprissa keeper Victor Bolivar for his 8th goal in the Champions League and a lead for Real Salt Lake.
The second goal of the match came in the 57th minute when Andy Williams sprung Espindola for an attacking run. A quick fake on the defender, got inside the area and a hard low shot converted by Espindola for the two goal lead. All match long it was Real Salt Lake in the driver’s seat and looking comfortable at Rio Tinto Stadium. But sadly there was some controversy on the night as the officiating wasn’t up to par.
There were two goals on the night that looked legitmate but were called back. The first goal by RSL in the sixth minute was disallowed by referee Enrico Wijngaarde of Suriname as Nat Borchers came out of nowhere and headed the ball past the keeper. It looked good originally, but Wijngaarde blew his whistle for a foul. The replay did show that the defender was never fouled by Borchars as he was in mid-air and somewhat lost his balance landing on Bolivar. The other goal that was called back was an offside in the 24th minute against Saprissa. The replay showed that the second attacker was in an offside position, but Jamison Olave brought him back on before the ball was played along the goal line. But the flag did go up and the goal was waived off.
Nick Rimando looked solid all night long in net for RSL and they played a strong first leg match in their first CONCACAF Champions League campaign. For the first time in the CONCACAF Champions League, a Major League Soccer side has reached the semi-finals and carrying the flags of MLS, US Soccer and the USA. That club is Real Salt Lake. Give plenty of credit to head coach Jason Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerway. These men have constructed a solid club for a good number of years that will be dangerous within MLS. And if they make a return to the CONCACAF Champions League, on an international club competition level.
Right now they are ninety minutes away from reaching the final round and while a two goal clean sheet result at home is positive, heading down to the Dragon’s Den of Estadio Ricardo Saprissa will be no easy task. The worst field turf in all of CONCACAF will be awaiting them and of course the best home field advantage for one of the top sides in the Costa Rican league will be daunting. It can’t be bunker down and pray for the best. They need to add on to their totals and have the advantage of the away goals rule to make it better. We shall see what happens on Tuesday night, April 5th.