SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (ABC 4 Sports) - Real Salt Lake dropped its 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League opener on Wednesday night, giving up an early goal and controversially going down a man in the 58th minute to lose 1-0 at Costa Rican champions C.S. Herediano.
RSL now has a lot of work to do in Group 2, likely needing an absolute minimum of seven points from its three remaining Group Stage games to win the group and advance to the eight-team Knockout Stage.
Real Salt Lake started on the back foot, nearly giving up a goal in the 5th minute. RSL GK Nick Rimando came up with a huge save to keep it scoreless, making a stellar stop on Herediano DF Pablo Salazar’s 10-yard shot following a corner kick.
Things didn’t get any better for RSL in the ensuing minutes, as the Utah side continued to struggle in possession, kept ceding chances and even saw FW Álvaro Saborio pick up a soft yellow card.
The Claret-and-Cobalt’s start went from bad to worse in the 14th minute, when Herediano MF Elias Aguilar scored to put the Costa Rican side up 1-0. Aguilar took advantage of a slip from RSL MF Kyle Beckerman, using the space created by Beckerman’s fall to rip a low, 18-yard shot inside the far post from the left side.
Real Salt Lake settled down a bit after the goal, holding a little more of the ball and creating a few chances. FW Fabian Espíndola came excruciatingly close to equalizing in the 30th minute, running onto a through ball from Saborío in the right side of the box before poking a 15-yard shot inches wide of the far post.
Herediano responded to Espíndola’s chance with one of its own in the 31st. RSL DF Jámison Olave misplayed a ball in the back, allowing Herediano FW Ismael Gomez to collect just outside the box on the left side, cut in on his right foot and hit a curling shot toward the far post that Rimando just got a finger on to tip wide.
Both sides continued attacking in the half’s final 15 minutes, with each team registering a half chance before the break. RSL also saw another important player pick up a yellow card before halftime, with Beckerman getting shown a yellow for persistent infringement in the 43rd minute.
Real Salt Lake started the second half much stronger than it did the first, holding the majority of the ball and creating a few decent chances in the early
MF Ned Grabavoy came close to scoring in the 52nd minute, collecting a loose ball at the top of the arc before hitting a deflected shot just wide of the right post. Saborío had a pair of half chances in the next five minutes, hitting a hard half volley just over the bar in the 54th and putting a contested close range header high in the 56th.
Unfortunately, RSL’s solid start didn’t last, with the Claret-and-Cobalt going down a man in the 58th minute when DF Nat Borchers was shown a very suspect red card for a sliding challenge on a 50-50 ball. Borchers’ ejection forced left back Chris Wingert into the middle of RSL’s defense, moved MF Will Johnson to left back and brought Espíndola back into the midfield.
RSL’s central defense took another hit in the 60th minute, when Olave picked up an apparent hamstring injury. The Colombian defender couldn’t continue, eventually coming off in the 63rd minute for DF Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
The Claret-and-Cobalt made another change in the 68th minute, bringing DF Kenny Mansally on for Espíndola. The switch allowed Johnson to move back into the midfield and kept Saborío alone up top.
Herediano also made a change in the 68th, bringing DF Derrick Johnson on for FW Ismael Gomez. Johnson didn’t take up a traditional defensive position – his job was solely to follow Saborío all over the field.
RSL held up remarkably well for being down a man and without both starting center backs. The Utah side didn’t concede any clear-cut chances and held a decent amount of the ball, pushing forward in search of an equalizer as often as possible.
In the end though, erasing a one-goal deficit on the road against the Costa Rican champions was too tall of an order for RSL, which couldn’t scratch out any good opportunities after Borchers’ red card.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will look to bounce back in CCL play on Aug. 21, when the club will host Panamanian champions Tauro FC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL will return to MLS play before that, facing a quick turnaround ahead of Saturday’s league clash at the archrival Colorado Rapids. The team will fly back to Salt Lake City early on Wednesday, resuming training on Thursday before heading to Denver on Friday.