Thursday, April 28, 2011

Monterrey 1, Real Salt Lake 0: This one will sting

With half his team splayed out on the Rio Tinto pitch before him, Jason Kreis had the look of a man adrift in thought on the touchline. One can imagine the myriad thoughts flipping through the man's mind like an out-of-control rolodex... a 37-match home unbeaten streak, two precious away goals in hand, nine months' worth of competition... all washed away in a five-second blip on the last kick of the first half.

Hard to digest in the blink of an eye.

So it comes to an end here on an Humberto Suazo goal in the 45th minute, giving the Rayados a 3-2 CONCACAF Champions League final victory on aggregate. I give it up for the Salt Lake fans who stayed through the medal ceremony to watch RSL get their runners-up medals. If I were a Utah sports fan, I'd have been out in the parking lot drowning my sorrows in the crisp 40-degree weather by then.

Anyway, I've got some thoughts. I'm sure we'll have some media up later. I'm going to beat most newspapers' deadlines here.

- If I felt I was in store for a cynical match before, watching 90 minutes of a mostly terrible El Clasico derby in UEFA's showpiece earlier in the day left me a little leery as to what this final would produce. As it turns out, my worries were mostly unfounded (that's saying nothing of CONCACAF's woeful handling of replays, however). It helped that the match was expertly officiated. It was open early, as RSL pressed the issue in the dawning moments, and Monterrey snuck in a goal just before the half to cap a first-half spell that was remarkably even. The second half - especially the final 10 - was an entertaining if worrisome scramble for goals. My prediction (1-1 draw with a late Javier Morales equalizer) almost held true, and I thought Morales had brought that to bear about three minutes into ET, but he raked his rebound juuuuust wide. Guess Hollywood will have to wait.

- RSL center backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers did yeoman's work on the slippery Humberto Suazo. They knocked him off course, chipped at him smartly and forced the ball off the shifty Chilean's foot with due haste. There were moments when Suazo looked every bit the dangerman, but they were few. That's why the goal surprised me. In his only real blunder of the night, Olave was caught flat-footed, lagged behind the play badly and simply watched the show. It was a class goal that Suazo set up himself on a pretty one-two with Sergio Santana, but that was only after Alvaro Saborio laid back a horrid ball to set the whole thing off. Which brings me to...

- I wasn't on board with the way Kreis managed his subs. A few odd decisions to say the least. Andy Williams and Saborio were likely culprits for a hook early, but fullback Robbie Russell, who was outstanding in the first half, was pulled off at halftime. Puzzling. Saborio was especially awful. Clunky touch, no attacking impetus... in fact, I can't think of a substantive positive contribution of his on the night. Williams finally did come off for Arturo Alvarez (who wasn't good either) in the 64th minute, but it was the otherwise excellent Fabian Espindola coming off in the last 10 minutes. Why Saborio was left on the field to flop around like a dead fish, I haven't a clue. RSL could have used Espindola, tired as he was, in a final push for a goal.

- Nick Rimando went down in the stat sheet without having to make an official save. Just wanted to point that out. I wouldn't exactly say Monterrey "laid siege" to Rimando's area. Borchers said in a postgame interview that he felt RSL thoroughly dominated the game, throwing a, "But that's soccer" in there for good measure. Yep. That's soccer.

- The lack of Kyle Beckerman - who was first to the podium to grab his runner-up medal, by the by - killed RSL. I'm sure they expected his absence on yellow cards to smart, but probably not this much. The link-up play was sorely lacking. Ned Grabavoy was good, but few midfielders can be expected to make up Beckerman's dogged approach to the position. It was especially obvious when RSL had to scramble for the equalizer. Things broke down, the play became too direct and the space between the midfield and Espindola/Saborio resembled a yawning chasm. Lots and lots of over-the-top, route one balls played with the expectation on Espindola to do just about everything himself. Which brings me in a roundabout way to Espindola's bright performance. With Monterrey RB Sergio Perez out, Espindola terrorized the hole his absence created for much of the evening. He was by far RSL's most dangerous threat, but he was starved for service at times. He had to create too much himself, and with Monterrey plenty happy with the status quo staying pat in the second half, they were all too happy to watch Espindola peter himself out with three defenders between him and the goal.

- I'm not usually a sunshine pumper after losses -- after all, RSL has nothing tangible to show for this run now -- but this does not erase a pretty serious Champions League expedition from Salt Lake. The league will be taking cues on RSL's run, the way they've built their side to beat the region's best and the way Kreis managed his starting XI without sacrificing form in MLS. And for those of you who haven't read Grant Wahl's piece on Kreis' RSL project, I suggest you check it out now. This will not be the last you hear of this group.

So will this go down as a bittersweet loss or just a bitter one? Guess it all depends on how close you live to Utah.

- Will Parchman


over there said...

This was a classic Bill Simmons' "stomach punch" game.

The Wanderer said...

Saborio had a rough night and I have to agree that the subs were puzzling. MLS is getting better but the overall talent level just still isn't there yet when compared to the richer Mexican clubs. That being said the future is bright.