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Normally getting a draw on the road in the first of a two game series would be considered a good development. And true, that's good news for Real Salt Lake, who return to Rio Tinto tonight for the second half of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against the Columbus Crew. All things being equal, it's seems reasonable to infer a team that gets a draw away from home is capable of defeated the same opponent at home.
But all things aren't equal for tonight's match. Real Salt Lake will be without two starters, with Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran seeing red in the first leg. Emilio Renteria also saw red for Columbus, but that's a trade Crew head coach Robert Warzycha should take. Sacrificing a player he can replace while his opponent has half of their back line suspended? Those are the circumstances upsets are made of.
And if the Crew go through tonight, I will be considered an upset, though perhaps not as big of one as we would have thought a week ago. Before the first leg, the Crew were considered a depleted team. Some of their problems were self-inflicted. Some were caused by injuries. Now, the Crew have been upgraded to unpredictable, having earned a 0-0 in leg one.
At 10:00 p.m. Eastern, they get their chance to complete the surprise. A goal in Utah will force RSL to score two, with the Crew gaining the away goals tiebreaker. Even if they can hold on to the 0-0, getting to penalty kicks after being considered such an underdog would be an accomplishment (as well as a coin flip chance to make the semifinals).
The match is being carried by Fox Soccer Channel as well as being streamed at CONCACAF.com. Here at SBNation Soccer, I'll be running a minute-by-minute, a slight change to the way we normally handle live coverage (as can be seen here, with the Chelsea-Manchester United match). Keep refreshing this page, and remember to give me your comments, because being the most unimaginative of scribes, I need fodder. You can also follow along on Twitter, as I try to keep up with what all the kids are doing.
But speaking of Twitter, time to look for some lineups.
-26:00 - That didn't take long. The RSL lineups are out on Twitter, and since I"m a tad lazy, let me copy this, paste it here, hit this button .. ok, now copy and paste and ...
A secret: I actually did all that copy-paste stuff twice. I just didn't want to type it out, again.
-21:00 - Yes, it took me five minutes to find these. It took me that long to figure out @ColumbusCrew probably had them.
-12:00 - The big surprises from the lineups (as FSC tries to convince me it's five hours ago): Chris Schuler starting in the back for the suspended Nat Borchers. Rauwshan McKenzie was thought to be the choice, but Kreis has gone with Schuler, who misses significant time last year with a broken collarbone. According to the Salt Lake Tribune's Michael Lewis, Schuler had impressed in training.
-?:00 - It's two past the hour. Who knows when this will start, but as long as FSC is having technical problems, I'm down to delay kick-off. Attempts to play interviews with Andy Iro and Kyle Beckerman had to be aborted when the audio failed to match-up with the video. If that wasn't bad enough, shots of the stadium shown as the broadcast when to break showed a sea of red (seats in Rio Tinto's lower deck are painted red). CONCACAF Champions League: It's where things happen.
0:00 - Former Miami Heat center Mark Geiger blows his whistle, and we're off. The crowd looks even worse, now that the camera's panning. Maybe people are still taking their seats. The first mention of the cold conditions provides an excuse. If only this were a major competition.
2:45 - Will Johnson hauls down Robbie Rogers deep in the RSL end, retribution for Rogers plowing into the Canadian minutes before. The resulting ball is a nice inswinger through the box. Nobody's there to make a play on it. Goal kick, RSL.
4:40 - A ball cleared out of the Crew's end sends the RSL defense chasing. Wow do they look cold. Right now, nobody looks ready to play. That may be half the weather, half the condition of the field, which is also in preseason form.
6:15 - I'm not sure either side has had possession in their opponents' penalty area. Real Salt Lake is holding more possession, patiently building toward the Crew's third before giving up the ball. When Columbus gets it, they'll make a dramatic more toward RSL's third before ... giving up the ball. Uneven start to this one.
8:10 - A cross sent in from Columbus's left sees Nick Rimando come out to meet it, but at the edge of his area, he has to let the ball go before his momentum takes him farther into the field. Nobody there, but still a cause for the crowd to gasp.
9:50 - Christopher Sullivan tells us there's no ice on the field. Mark Rogandino tells us RSL and the Utah Jazz are the key sport franchises in the area. Meanwhile, Ray Burse has to come out to punch a ball, collides with Rich Balchan and sends his defender to the ground. Balchan's woosy as play is stopped.
12:40 - Will Johnson just hit the woodwork from 26 yards. Cutting in onto his right foot, the midfielder blasted a shot that froze Burse, nailing the right post. Alvaro Saborio puts the rebound off the left upright as the whistle blows. The Costa Rican was offside.
14:45 - RSL is taking the possession they've had since the match's onset and have started making progress. In addition to Johnson's scare, RSL's now probing the Crew line, putting balls behind Iro and Balchan, usually from far up the pitch. The upshot: thus far, Saborio's much more of a factor tonight than he was in Columbus.
16:50 - Columbus earns their first corner of the match. No danger. Rogandino notes Columbus can take solace in not playing their choice first team tonight. Oh, Mark. That's so 2008.
19:30 - A break out of the RSL end give the crowd another reason to gasp. Columbus's line keeps retreating as Fabian Espindola carries the ball toward the box. The RSL attacker pulls up from 26 yards, aims toward the left post, and pulls it a few yards wide.
21:50 - GOAL!!! Josh Gardner makes a nice play to keep an Andy Williams pass from connecting with and overlapping Robbie Russell, but off the ensuing throw RSL plays the ball to the center before finding Saborio running in behind Andy Iro. Balchan keeps him onside and fails to track him, giving the Costa Rican an open shot from 14 yards out. Goal Saborio, and RSL is up 1-0.
26:00 - Balchan made sure he didn't make the same mistake twice. A ball played over Iro for Javi Morales sees the Argentine crunched by the Crew defender. Now to some, Morales would still have the upper hand, having assisted on Saborio's goal. But Balchan just got some retribution, albeit minor.
29:00 - Nick Rimando just came up and skied to collect a long ball lofted into his area. Replays show at full stretch, Rimando may be able to reach a jumping Emmanuel Ekpo's head. But he got the ball, so ... nice read.
31:10 - In fairness to those who are braving the conditions at Rio Tinto, there now look to be many more people in the seats than were shown in the match's opening moments. We see this as RSL plays a corner from the goals left, with Ray Burse coming out to punch it ... back, toward goal, out for another corner? With nobody around him, Burse could have caught the ball. The resulting corner led to nothing, but as we see replays of the first corner, we find out Burse had little idea where the punched ball was going to go.
36:00 - GOAL!!! Javi Morales has his revenge. Suck it, Balchan, he might be saying in Spanish. In his head. If he knew who Balchan was. And was as bad a person as I am. Instead, Morales is blowing kisses to the crowd after capitalizing on some horrible Crew defending. Andy Williams, under no pressure, is able to roll a ball 20 yards, into the box - into the same area where Saborio was fed for the first goal. Morales finishes to the far post. 2-0, RSL.
39:00 - Nobody's beaten Andy Iro in three minutes.
41:00 - Andy Iro is on fire. Now five minutes without an implicit own-assist. As for the rest of the Crew, well, this sums it up:
43:00 - Christopher Sullivan is the best color man in U.S. broadcasting. He just used "cadre," but this is inexcusable: "2-0 is the most dangerous lead in soccer." It's the most dangerous lead for soccer broadcasters. I'll buy that. There seems to be a direct correlation between its occurrences and nonsensical cliches coming over the airwaves.
45:00+ - Former Orlando Magic center Mark Geiger whistles half to close. It was not the prettiest of halves, but RSL was the far better side. The 2-0 lead is fair reflection on the match, with the former champs on track to be MLS's first CCL semifinalists.
Halftime - I just learned, via the highlights, that Johnson's ball the nailed the post was much farther out that I originally documented. Never trust me. Shorts on goal: 4-2, RSL. And while I go to Twitter to interact with those who are hitting me up there, I see tonight's match is being overshadowed by ...
And lest I fail to relate that to the soccer world:
Thankfully for all my minute-by-minute readers, the teams are back on the field. And yes, I did just use the plural.
47:00 - And we're back! And through the first two minutes, things look like the first half's last 10 minutes. RSL is better. They seem to know it, now, and are going little to ... wait, what just happened?
48:00 - GOAL!!! Friends! Columbus is now one goal from the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Eddie Gaven scoops a ball up and over the RSL line, Robbie Russell is out of position, and Andres Mendoza hammers a shot from 14 yards out to make it 2-1. Christopher Sulllivan notes "that's why 2-0 is the most dangerous score in the world," as if he's having a direct conversation with me.
51:00 - If there was momentum in that goal, Columbus missed it. The match looks like minute 46, but that may not be a good thing for RSL. They fell asleep on that goal, and if Columbus lulls them to sleep again in the next 39 minutes, the Crew will make Christopher Sullivan right. And really, hasn't that become the point of this night? The nature of the 2-0 lead?
53:30 - Josh Gardner surges down the left side, but when his pass to Robbie Rogers is intercepted by Robbie Russell, RSL counters into the space vacated, Fabian Espindola charging forward. Three defenders get back, but nobody from RSL is keeping up. Espindola's square ball into the left of the box is swallowed up by Burse, who gets Will Johnson's spikes to his ... um, thigh ... for his trouble.
56:40 - Javi Morales has picked up a yellow card for being within 10 yards of a Josh Gardner restart. When Gardner finally puts the ball live, RSL busts out of their end on a counter. Kyle Beckerman, streaking up the left side, plays a ball past Gardner before being hauled down. If Gardner wasn't on a yellow, he'd probably have been booked. As is, Mark Geiger has sympathy, remembering the time that he broke Shaquielle O'Neal's thumb.
59:30 - It appears I have an email with the subject "Matt Geiger." I wonder what that could be about.
59:45 - Columbus builds an attack down the left, plays across the box for Andres Mendoza, who can't get a shot off. Sullivan points out that Gaven was lurking just outside the box, waiting to tee up a lay-off. Julius James has come on for Gardner, Robert Warzycha trying to keep his side at 11 men.
62:00 - For the first time this half, RSL has established possession in Columbus's half and appears content to pass the ball around. But after 20 seconds of doing this, they attack down the right and earn a corner kick. Beckerman finds an unmarked Espindola near the spot, the attacker snapping a powerful shot toward Burse. Burse confidently grabs it.
64:25 - Jeff Cunningham is off, and I swear, he never even touched the ball. Former Michigan Wolverine Justin Meram is on, having a very low bar to hurdle.
67:00 - I know this is RSL's strategy because I've seen them do it twice in the last 90 seconds. Possess. Possess. Possess. Possess ... and ... roll the ball to Ray Burse.
67:15 - Apparently Columbus had figured out RSL's tactics, because they changed up and decided to go for goal. From the left, Alvaro Saborio is found on a near post run. Burse lunges for the save. Corner kick finds Chris Schuler, how powers a header off the crossbar. Moments later, Beckerman threads a ball to Saborio at the spot where the first two goals were scored. High and wide. With the execution RSL showed on their last two corners, RSL should have had a third goal.
71:00 - Jason Kries has made his first move. Paulo Junior is coming on. Alvaro Saborio is off. Now you might be saying "didn't that guy just come close to scoring? Twice?" Yeah, but you don't want to restore the two goal lead. Remember, that's just inviting danger.
72:00 - But if Columbus scores, they'll be up two, in terms of away goals.
73:00 - And, they'd be in the semifinals. Nothing about this Columbus team says "they should be beating RSL," but if the hosts have another break down like they did early this half, the Crew will be beating RSL and .... ooh, sorry. Another RSL corner.
75:00 - Columbus makes their final change. Mark Rogandino says it happened but doesn't tell us who's on. The graphic tells us: Dilly Duka is on for Ekpo. As I read it, I learn my internal monologue speaks much fast than Rogandino, and while they say "the more you know," I just don't think that's going to be useful.
76:30 - GOAL!!! Ohvah, all. This one is ohvah. Paulo Junior, holding the ball to the left of the box, slides the ball back for an oncoming Javier Morales. Morales is given enough room to take a took toward the middle of the field before letting fly from 18 yards out. He beats Burse to the left, but it was far too easy. My entry into the understatement of the night contest: Columbus's defending has not been good.
Incidentally, you want to know the winner of the overstatement of the night contest?
78:00 - No. He hasn't said it. Yet.
79:00 - Still hasn't said it. Does he know RSL's up two?
80:00 - Replay of the goal shows the shot want under a recovering Balchan. Again, Morales gets to say it. Suck it, Balchan.
84:00 - Nearing ten minutes since the goal, and Nick Rimando may as well be signing autographs. Jason Kreis makes another change. Fabian Espindola is out. Jean Alexandre is in.
86:20 - Christopher Sullivan calls Real Salt Lake one of the most attractive teams in Major League Soccer.
86:55 - Javi Morales is off. Ned Grabavoy's on. Morales is, without question, Man of the Match. Two goals and an assist.
89:20 - Justin Meram almost touched the ball, but former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Mark Geiger had blown his whistle. I can't remember the last time a team got so little out of one of their attacking positions. I'm not sure that either Cunningham or Meram have had a touch.
92:00 - Andy Iro blatantly throws Ned Grabavoy to the ground, pushing him in the back. Finally, Iro makes a tackle.
93:20 - GOAL!!! Grabavoy sees yellow, putting a shot past Burse after the referee had blown the play dead. Too excited, an RSL fan launches a roll of toiler paper onto the field. One minute later, that fan's made to regret the waste, as Andy Williams scores from a dead ball. Twenty-three yards from touch, Williams bends a ball over the wall from the far left of goal. That's a goal to go along with his assist, making it 4-1.
94:00 - It's over, and the scoreline is what we may have expected two weeks ago. RSL Is through to the semifinals, defeating Columbus 4-1, now set to take on the winner of Saprissa and Olimpia.
Real Salt Lake is heading into halftime holding a 2-0 lead over the Columbus Crew in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. They are playing at the fortress of Rio Tinto Stadium. Is this really a surprise.
I know there was a fair amount of hand-wringing after last week's 0-0 tie. What many people, including myself, had expected to see was for the Crew to get run over by a much more experienced RSL side that, presumably was better prepared for the preseason encounter. Instead, we were "treated" to a boring, sloppy game that was played in well-below-freezing temperatures and on a pitch that was basically frozen.
Playing in conditions that are better, although not much, we are really seeing the differences in these two sides. RSL looks calm and composed and is looking strong. The Crew have been reduced to counter-attacks and don't appear capable of sustaining any real pressure.
The Crew might not turn out to be as bad as some of us have predicted, or as bad as they look today, but it just seems unrealistic if anyone really believed as much as a tie would have been anything less than a huge upset. This Crew team has only been playing together for a couple of weeks. RSL has been together for more than a year. If RSL didn't come out on top, even convincingly and despite the fact that this is preseason, that would be cause for concern. That RSL has now dominated the Crew for 45 minutes is merely cementing what should have been obvious all along: One of these teams is a title contender and the other is going to fighting for a playoff spot.
Cruz Azul scored three goals in a 16-minute span to open up a 5-0 aggregate score lead and held on for a 5-1 victory over Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. They will now move on to the CCL semifinals for the third straight year where they will face the winner of Monterrey and Toluca. Monterrey currently leads 1-0 as the quarterfinal moves to their home for Wednesday's second leg.
Despite the convincing victory, Cruz Azul did not look like the better team for long stretches of the second leg. Santos Laguna dominated possession and had most of the early chances, but Cruz Azul picked up a crucial early goal when Emanuel Villa scored on a counter-strike in the 37th minute. Cruz Azul then opened the second half with a pair of goals at 51' and 53', both of which Villa had a hand in. Villa had the assist on the second goal, setting up Christian Giménez, and followed that up with his ninth goal of the tournament two minutes later. As it turned out, three of Cruz Azul's on-target shots went for goals.
One bad piece of news for Cruz Azul came in the 57th minute when Giménez picked up his second yellow card. Giménez has been one of Cruz Azul's leading scorers over the past year and they will be without his services for the first leg of the semifinal.
There's no question that Cruz Azul will be moving through to the CONCACAF Champions League semfinals as they currently lead Santos Laguna 5-1 on aggregate, but they'll have to play one leg of the semis without Christian Giménez. The forward picked up his second yellow card of the match on a sloppy tackle in the 64th minute and will now have to sit out the first leg of the semifinal against either Monterrey or Toluca.
Giménez has been one of the top players in CCL play, scoring three goals. He has been one of Cruz Azul's top scorers during the Clausura (two goals in eight matches) and was their top scorer in 2010 (20 goals in 36 matches).
Shortly after Giménez was sent off, Santos pulled a goal back with Cristian Benitez scoring in the 71st minute. Benitez was able to slot home a shot that had caromed off the far post and went directly to him.
Christian Giménez and Emanuel Villa scored just two minutes apart to give Cruz Azul a commanding 5-0 aggregate score lead in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Santos Laguna. Villa, who scored Cruz Azul's first goal of the night, assisted on the second goal and now has nine goals in the tournament. The scores came in the 50th and 53rd minutes. Javier Aquino also picked up his second assist of the match. Villa has now been subbed off.
The goals essentially guarantee Cruz Azul a spot in the semifinals for the third straight year. Cruz Azul has lost in the CCL final in each of the past two years, but has not won the tournament in its current incarnation. They have won the tournament a record five times (Club America has also won five times), but have not won since going back-to-back in 1996-97.
This seems to extend what has so far been a rough winter for Santos Laguna, who was one of the top teams in the Apertura but have so far been one of the worst in the Clausura. Santos has won just one of their past four matches.
Cruz Azul has taken a commanding 3-0 aggregate score lead in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday against Santos Laguna. The goal came in the 37th minute and was provided by Emanuel Villa off an assist from Javier Aquino. The goal all but seals the result for Cruz Azul, who would have to be outscored 4-0 in the the game's second half.
On the goal, Aquino was able to find Villa unmarked just inside the 18-yard box. Villa volleyed the shot past the Santos Laguna goalkeeper. The goal was Villa's eighth of the tournament, second only to teammate Javier Orozco (11).
Up until the goal, Santos Laguna had been relatively dominant, possessing the ball about 60 percent of the time and coming very close to pulling back a goal on at least two occasions. But each time a combination of solid goalkeeping from Jesus Corona and simply mishandling the chances has kept them off the scoreboard.
RSL Soapbox, SB Nation's Real Salt Lake blog, penned almost 2,000 words previewing the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against the Columbus Crew. A huge chunk of that analysis is devoted to the coaching matchup of Jason Kreis vs. Robert Warzycha, the respective coaches. Denz expects to see RSL come out aggressively and for the Crew to take more of a defend-and-counter attack approach.
Perhaps no decision will be bigger than the risk/reward of starting Jeff Cunningham, who can be a terror to defenses and keepers but who generally doesn't play a lot of defense. If he is the lone striker than you can be sure they are playing a more defensive mindset on the match and hoping for Jeff to get behind the RSL defense, if they go with two guys up top (likely Cunny and Mendoza) then they are going for the win in a big way and it should be a very exciting up tempo match.
Tonight half of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals will be set. One of two Mexcian Primera rivals will occupy one spot, while one of two MLS teams will earn a position on the opposite side of the bracket.
The situations in the two matches couldn't be much more different. In the all-Mexican quarterfinal, Cruz Azul heads to Santos Laguna with a 2-0 aggregate goal lead. It's not an impossible hill to climb, but even one goal from Cruz Azul essentially creates a three-goal deficit because of the away-goal rule. In the all-MLS quarterfinal, the score is tied 0-0 as it heads to Rio Tinto Stadium.
Santos Laguna (0) vs. Cruz Azul (2); 7 p.m. Eastern; Estadio Corona; TV: Telefutura, CONCACAF.com
Los Guerreros face a tough task, no question about it. Cruz Azul dominated the first leg, especially the second half when they scored both of their goals. The struggles are a continuation of what has so far been a disappointing 2011 for Santos Laguna. Coming off a Apertura which saw them finish with the third most points in the Primera, Santos Laguna is stuck in fifth place in Group 1. Estadio Corona has hardly been a fortress, so far, as they've claimed just four points in six home matches.
Cruz Azul hasn't so far equaled their success of the the Apertura, either, but with 14 points in eight matches are not exactly struggling. Just one goal in tonight's match would likely secure their spot in the semifinals for the third straight year.
Prediction: Cruz Azul scored early and coasts to a 3-1 aggregate goal victory.
There weren't too many people who predicted this would be tied going into the second leg. But that was before people saw the condition of the pitch or, for that matter, the Crew play a competitive match together.
It's safe to say that the frozen pitch was not conducive to attractive play in the first leg, but the three ejections didn't help either. The Crew did keel over as some had predicted, but they weren't exactly sharp either. As it is, they did enough to be very much alive in the second leg.
RSL enters their home leg without right back Tony Beltran and standout center back Nat Borchers, while the Crew will be missing one of their few proven scorers, Emilio Renteria. RSL should have the depth to overcome those absences, and the Crew might not need much more than one goal. Consider those aspects a wash.
Prediction: The two teams continue to look like their in preseason form and play to a scoreless tie in the first half before RSL scores two in the second to win 2-0 on aggregate.
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