- Jason Davis

Whether the result of shaking off pre-season rusts or due to the greater comforts of being at home, Real Salt Lake proved themselves worthy of their prohibitive favorite status as they dispatched an outmatched Columbus Crew side 4-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night. A crowd of 15,045 looked on as RSL playmaker Javier Morales scored twice and collected an assist on Alvaro Saborio's opening tally, leading the charge for the home side.

“To be completely honest, I was a little concerned coming into this match because we’ve been talking a lot about it and what we’ve managed to do is put ourselves under a tremendous amount of pressure. We really raised the level of expectations for ourselves. On prior occasions we’ve struggled with that, so I was nervous that the guys would come out again very nervous tonight. Obviously we didn’t, so I’m extremely pleased with that situation.”
- RSL head coach Jason Kreis

It took the first quarter hour for Real Salt Lake to being to look like the team fans have come to expect, passing the ball quickly and probing the opposing defense for weaknesses ominously. An announcement of intention of sorts came early when midfielder Will Johnson clanged a 30-yard rocket off the Crew crossbar, nearly giving RSL the lead. After defensive stalwart Jamison Olave and his fill in partner at centerback Chris Schuler repelled early Crew forays into the RSL box, Real Salt Lake passed their way upfield in search of the series' opening goal. The breakthrough came in the 23rd minute; midfielder Morales pulled the string on a through ball, playing Saborio in behind the Crew defense before the Costa Rican calmly angled the ball past the outstretched arms of Crew keeper Ray Burse. The disappointing performance in the cold first leg in Columbus now a memory, Saborio's goal set the tone for a very different home-standing RSL.

The second score of the night came just 13 minutes later when midfielder Andy Williams played a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Morales. The Argentine replicated Saborio's feat and pinged a shot past Burse, giving the home side a seemingly comfortable lead at 2-0. With away goals serving a aggregate tie-breaker, a one goal margin was too close for comfort; even after scoring, RSL could lose the series should the Crew respond and the game end tied. Morales appeared to all but seal the deal with his strike, since it required a poorly performing Crew attack to score twice in a little more than a half of play.

“In Columbus it was really hard to play because it was so cold. Here we are at home and we tried to play our soccer.”
- RSL midfielder Javier Morales

A invigorated Crew came out for the second half, pushing the attack and threatening to get back a goal. It didn't take long, as winger Eddie Gaven lifted a ball over the RSL back line that striker Andres Mendoza hit past Nick Rimando on a superb half-volley. The goal was Mendoza's third in Champions League play and gave the Crew renewed hope that comeback was in the cards. Needing just a draw to go through and with most of the half to play, RSL's comfortable lead was again down to the slimmest of margins.

“We weren’t happy giving away that goal. We didn’t control the game the first 10 or 15 minutes; they took over those minutes and got the goal, but then we settled down and got back to our game.”
- RSL midfielder Andy Williams

The response from RSL was swift, with the home side putting together several quality chances over the next 20 minutes, including Fabian Espindola heading directly at Crew keeper Ray Burse, Alvaro Saborio forcing Burse into his best save of the night, and Chris Schuler rattling the bar on a headed chance from an RSL corner.

Real Salt Lake's pressure paid off with Morales' second goal of the night in the 77th minute, off a pass from substitute Paulo Junior, who came on for Saborio in the 71st. There was a hint of controversy on the score, as Fabian Espindola jumped to avoid the shot while standing in an offside position. No call was made and the goal, effectively the coup de grâce for the Crew's chances, stood.

Andy Williams added a free kick tally in the closing minutes to put an exclamation mark on the proceedings, an almost complete performance by the home side that proves their favorite and best MLS hope in the Champions League statuses were well deserved.

Real Salt Lake moves on to the semifinals, and will take on the winner of the Olimpia (Honduras) v. Saprissa (Costa Rica) quarterfinal. The second leg of that series is set for tomorrow night in Tegulcigalpa. Saprissa holds a 1-0 aggregate lead. The MLS club will be back at full strength for the March 15th home leg, with defenders Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran back from red card suspensions.

“I hope that we’ve learned. You hope that when you get guys in that same situation multiple times that they improve and they learn. We’ve seen that if we can calm down, relax a little bit with possession we’ll have some success. I would hope that in the next round we can expound on that and maybe even play better.”
- Jason Kreis



Goals by Period                    1          2          F
Real Salt Lake                        2          2          4                     
Columbus Crew                      0          1          1         

Scoring Summary
RSL – Álvaro Saborío (Javier Morales, Andy Williams) 23’
RSL – Javier Morales (Andy Williams, Fabian Espíndola) 36’
CLB – Andres Mendoza (Eddie Gaven) 49’
RSL – Javier Morales (Paulo Jr.) 77’
RSL – Andy Williams (unassisted) 95+’

Real Salt Lake: GK-Nick Rimando, DF-Robbie Russell, DF-Chris Schuler, DF-Jamison Olave, DF-Chris Wingert; MF-Andy Williams, MF-Kyle Beckerman (Captain), MF-Javier Morales (Ned Grabavoy 87), MF-Will Johnson; FW-Álvaro Saborío (Paulo Jr. 71), FW-Fabian Espíndola (Jean Alexandre 85)

Columbus Crew: GK-Ray Burse Jr., DF-Rich Balchan, DF-Andy Iro (Captain), DF-Sebastian Miranda, DF-John Gardner (Julius James 60); MF-Emmanuel Ekpo (Dilly Duka 75), MF-Eddie Gaven, MF-Cole Grossman, MF-Robbie Rogers; FW-Jeff Cunningham (Justin Meram 65), FW-Andres Mendoza

CLB – Josh Gardner – 43’
RSL – Javier Morales – 57’
CLB – Sebastian Miranda – 94+’


Real Salt Lake
Columbus Crew
Shots on Goal
Corner Kicks

Referee: Mark Geiger (USA)
Referee’s Assistants: Corey Rockwell (USA), George Gansler (USA)
Fourth Official: Terry Vaughn (USA)
Time of Game: 1:52
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 40 degrees
Attendance: 15,405

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