- Ethan Gomberg


Although most American eyes were on Seattle tonight for MLS First Kick, the eyes of Utah and the rest of the continent will be on Rio Tinto Stadium. Both Saprissa (Costa Rican winners) and Real Salt Lake (MLS’s last entry in the CONCACAF Tournament) have focused a great deal on this match. RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said before the match that “this might be the biggest game we have ever had here”. Indeed RSL has made it a preseason focus to make their CCL run this focus of the 2011 season.

These two teams have met at least once before in Utah. Saprissa traveled to Salt Lake City in 2008 for a “friendly” against RSL. The term friendly is used here loosely, because although Saprissa walked away with a win, it also ended with a double ejection. Former RSL Forward Yura Movsisyan was red carded when he had a collision with current starting Saprissa defender Gabriel Badilla. In that match starting midfielder and Saprissa captain Walter Centeno sat up both goals of what became a 2-1 victory for the side from Costa Rica. Armando Alonso who started tonight also scored in that match.

Tonight there will be less familiar faces matching up. RSL starting left back Chris Wingert injured himself in practice this week, so he was left off the starting roster and the bench. In his place defenders Robbie Russell and Tony Beltran got the starting nod from RSL coach Jason Kreis. Russell had replaced a red carded Beltran in the 2nd leg of the Columbus match and had preformed admirably. This night with Wingert out, Beltran would start in the left back position. Although Saprissa has some newer players since these 2 teams last met, this mostly veteran Costa Rican only team has dominated in CCL play thus far. Led by Centeno, Saprissa came out ready to compete.

Early going in the match, RSL pressed the visiting Costa Ricans fairly aggressive. Asserting themselves as their 34 unbeaten streak would suggest it would. Both clubs started out the match in what could be defined as a chippy affair. One interesting note was starting defensive midfielder Douglas Sequeira, a former RSLer himself, started out the heated battle by fouling Javier Morales in the opening 30 seconds of play. Not to be outdone by the teams’ antics, the supporters of RSL pelted the Saprissa goalkeeper Victor Bolivar with streamers (red-blue-yellow of course). By the 6th minute, RSL’s high octane approach seemed to pay off when it looked like a goal for RSL by defender Nat Borchers, but it was waived off. Borchers said after the match that “from my standpoint, I got away from my marker and I thought I had it but then I looked at the ref and he said I pushed off. It was pretty unfair because I never score, but I haven’t had much luck with CONCACAF refs”.

Not be undone, by the 9th minute, Alvaro Saborio scored his first of the night and 8th in 2010/2011. After the match Saborio said of scoring on his former team “It’s hard, but we have to win”. Although the assist came from fellow RSL forward Fabian Espindola, there was a lot of motion on the Saprissa bench that there was a foul by RSL in the box, but the goal was still allowed.

After the goal Saprissa played surprisingly timid. Even the foul by Saprissa on RSL’s Saborio at the top of the box did not seem to motivate them to play more the part of the aggressor. And that was with 3 Saprissa defenders on Saborio. Saprissa’s troubles continued with a yellow card caution on defender Josa Mena (also yellow carded in the Olimpia match). The first corner of the game came in the 18th minute, which Saprissa captain Centeno took. Centeno had assisted on goals 3 years earlier against RSL, but he showed no such flash when he calmly passed it to a teammate instead of kicking it towards the goal. Saprissa got nothing out of the corner.

By the 24th minute, Saprissa began to play more offense and Jairo Arrieta had a nice shot and the goal looked like it went in but the officials called a Saprissa player in the offsides position, negating the goal. RSL’s Andy Williams continued to play beneath his age with some deft passing and physical play. By the 30th minute RSL began to show some weakness when their midfield seemed to get sucked up in defensive third and Saprissa began to show some tenacity to go forward. Arietta’s yellow slowed it down a bit. The next shot by Saprissa’s Josue Martinez looked very nice, coming close to the goal but it ended up going wide. RSL had their first corner of the by the 38th minute, but like most of the last 1/ 3 of the games 1st half, RSL didt apply too much pressure. Coach Kreis said “In the first 15 minutes, I was very pleased, but by the end of the half [RSL] seemed to have forgotten the script. Saprissa played like if they got 1 goal, that would be good enough for them”.

The 2nd half started with RSL starting defender Jamison Olave being taken out and replaced by backup central back, Chris Schuler. Olave was taken off because of a hamstring injury. After the match Kreis said of Olave “I am very concerned, Olave asked to be taken out. When Olave asks to be taken out, you have to be concerned. I am concerned”. After the match teammate Nat Borchers said he expects Olave to be ready for the Saturday San Jose match.

In the 56th minute, Fabian Espindola made it a 2-0 game when he scored. The rest of the match was back and forth with Beckerman having a great shot on goal near the 60th minute. Nice saves by Bolivar kept Saprissa in the game. Bolivar’s aggressiveness almost resulted in some injuries when he came out hard on Morales near the 62nd minute. But it didn’t result in anything more than some harsh words and a very concerned crowd murmuring.

Saprissa’s Ricardo Blanco had a nice shot on goal but it went slightly wide with pressure from GK Nick Rimando. One of the big concerns for both clubs was D. Sequeria fouling Morales, Saprissa because they didn’t want to go down a man and RSL because they didn’t want Morales injured. He was finally carded in the 80th minute for another foul on Morales. Defender Nat Borchers said after the game that he thought “there should have been more cautions, especially because of the fouls Saprissa had on Javier [Morales]”.

Saprissa almost let it be 3-0 in the 73rd minute when Espindola, on a fast break down the left side but was fouled hard by Blanco, who was then carded. RSL’s Schuler showed coach Kreis that he was the right person to come in when he had some nice defensive moves on 2nd half sub Mayko Ortiz, not allowing Ortiz any time on the ball going forward.

RSL new signing Arturo Alvarez came in at the 88th minute for the first time for his new club. He received a lot of applause from the crowd and he appreciated it. “The crowd really got excited when I came in, I don’t have the words, but I think the last time felt that way was back when I first played for the national team in El Salvador. It was special, great,” said Alvarez.

Even with RSL peppering the goal near the end, Saprissa was happy for the final whistle, leaving Rio Tinto with only a 2-0 deficient. RSL now has to defend the lead when they head for the fortress that is Saprissa’s home field. After the match, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando spoke of playing in Saprissa’s home in the next leg “I think we have to play the same way, maybe a little bit more conservative. If we get a goal, they have to get 4 goals, which is nice. We are sitting in a nice spot and we look forward to the next leg”.

Note, Saprissa starters Mena and Blanco are out of the next leg with yellow card accumulation.

Attendance: 16,888

Ref: Wijngaarde (SUR)

RSL – Saborío (Espindola, Williams) 9’
RSL – Espíndola (Williams) 56’

Bolivar, Mena, Wong, Badilla (88 Duarte), Blanco, Centeno, Guzman, Alonso (77 Ortiz), Sequeira, Arrieta, Martinez (71 Cordero)
Subs Not Used: Gonzalez, Cordero Flores, Sequeira, Fernandez

Real Salt Lake
Rimando, Russell, Olave (45 Schuler), Borchers, Beltran, Williams (67 Grabavoy), Beckerman, Morales, Johnson, Saborio, Espindola (88 Alvarez)
Subs Not Used: Reynish, Alexandre, Paulo Jr, Warner

Saprissa – Mena (12- yellow), Badilla (37- yellow), Blanco (73-yellow), Sequeira (81 yellow), Arrieta (30 – yellow).
Real Salt Lake- none
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