SANDY UT - SEPTEMBER 19: Javier Orozco #27 of Cruz Azul gets the ball past goalie Kyle Reynish #24 and Rauwshan McKenzie #30 of Real Salt Lake but misses the shot on goal during the second half of an CONCACAF soccer game October 19 2010 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Utah. Real Salt Lake beat Cruz Azul 3-1. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

CONCACAF Champions League, Semifinals: Monterrey Defeat Cruz Azul On Late Humberto Suazo Penalty

RSL becomes first MLS team to play for CCL title and could become the first to play in the Club World Cup.

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Cruz Azul Vs. Monterrey, CONCACAF Champions League: Monterrey Advance To Face Real Salt Lake

Everything looked like it was going perfectly for Cruz Azul, but the last 10 minutes turned into a nightmare and sent Monterrey through to the CONCACAF Champions League final. Cruz Azul got the first goal of the match to put them even on aggregate at 2-2, but ahead thanks to an away goal. A 79th minute penalty and red card changed everything though as Monterrey converted the penalty to go ahead on aggregate and ahead to a matchup in the final with Real Salt Lake.

Cruz Azul's goal came quickly as a long ball over the top was inch-perfect and sent the Blue Machine away. The shot was hit sharply, only to be well saved, but ti fell right to Cesar Villaluz, who knocked home the rebound for the opening tally.

From that point on, Cruz Azul was content to sit deep and defend while waiting for the opportunity to strike quickly on the counter-attack. It worked well for a while and frustrated Monterrey star striker Humberto Suazo, but it bit them in the end. With Monterrey on the ball so long they were able to send crosses into the box and one ball floated in forced Walter Ponce to push an attacker. It was a soft push, but the referee still pointed to the spot and showed Ponce his second yellow card of the match. 

Suazo stepped up and knocked the penalty kick in, giving Monterrey the goal that would send them to the final. The final 10 minutes were difficult for Cruz Azul being down a man and they never really threatened, leaving them to do nothing more than argue with the referee after the match. The penalty was soft and the Cruz Azul players were incensed with Fausto Pinto even being shown a red card after the final whistle for his arguing. 

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Cruz Azul Vs. Monterrey, CONCACAF Champions League: Monterrey Goes Ahead On Penalty

The tie was going almost exactly as Cruz Azul had hoped. They got the away goal and only lost by one goal at Monterrey then returned home for the second leg and went ahead 1-0. All they had to do was finish off the match with that scoreline and they would be through to the CONCACAF Champions League final. In the 79th minute, everything fell apart though as a red card and penalty put Monterrey in the driver's seat.

Walter Ponce was judged to have pushed a man in the box, although replays showed it was hardly the firmest of shoves. Unfortunately for Ponce, that pushed earned him his second yellow card of the match and a sending off. Even more unfortunate for Cruz Azul is that it was a penalty and when Humberto Suazo converted it, the aggregate of the tie went 3-2 in favor of Monterrey. 

Down a man and needing a goal just to force extra time, Cruz Azul are nearly done. Meanwhile, it looks as if Monterrey has done the job they needed to do in going away and getting a draw. If they hold on, the final is theirs.

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Cruz Azul Vs. Monterrey, CONCACAF Champions League: Blue Machine In Control At Halftime

With only 45 minutes left in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal tie between Cruz Azul and Monterrey it is the Blue Machine who are in a good position. Cruz Azul went to Monterrey in the first leg and while they lost 2-1, they got the crucial away goal. Add in a first half goal in tonight's second leg and Cruz Azul is just 45 minutes from the tournament final. The tie is even at 2-2 on aggregate, but Cruz Azul's away goal would put them through if this score holds.

Cesar Villaluz was the one who netted the first half goal for Cruz Azul, taking advantage of a rebound to put the ball into a relatively open goal. The goal came on a quick move with a long ball and subsequent shot forcing the rebound that Villaluz pounded on. That has proven to be the strategy Cruz Azul is going to rely on to finish off this tie as they've dropped deeper since scoring their goal to defend and look for the counter-attack. Monterrey had more possession in the later stages of the first half, but no outstanding chances as Humberto Suazo has struggled to make an impact.

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Cruz Azul Vs. Monterrey, CONCACAF Champions League: Blue Machine Get Goal They Need

When Cruz Azul scored in the opening leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal at Monterrey, it was a massive goal for the team because it got them an all-important away goal. Well, the Blue Machine may have put that away goal to work with their opening tally in the second leg of the tie. Now the aggregate of the tie is level at 2-2, but Cruz Azul's goal in the first leg gives them the away goal that Monterrey does not have so if this scoreline holds Azul will be through to the final.

Azul had been knocking the ball around, but their break through came with a quick move, not a patient breakdown. A long ball over the top put a man in on goal and a shot from the left to the far post forced a good save from Monterrey keeper Jonathan Orozco. The rebound came right to Cesar Villaluz though and he was able to put the ball past a sprawling Orozco.

Now Monterrey needs a goal or their Champions League dream will end. With Humberto Suazo in their team they are more than capable of getting the goal they need, but he hasn't been too involved in the early going.

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Cruz Azul Vs. Monterrey, CONCACAF Champions League: Blue Machine Have Work Cut Out For Them

Although Cruz Azul picked up a crucial road goal during the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, they still trail Monterrey 2-1 heading into Wednesday's second leg. Monterrey has to be considered the favorite, as they have been one of the best home teams in Mexico and will also have star striker Humberto Suazo back for the game. As FMF State of Mind, SB Nation's Mexican Primera blog, points out, this team is a lot more than one star striker, though.

With the players that they have on their roster, Monterrey are capable of grinding out a scoreless draw if they have to. They usually play very attractive football, but they can play a defense-first style when necessary. In that respect, Walter Ayovi is their Park Ji-Sung out wide, while Jesus Zavala is their (large) Darren Fletcher. It seems like Monterrey will play a 4-4-2 with Zavala and Luis Perez on the bench while Neri Cardozo and Ayovi play wide, but don't be surprised to see one of the strikers come off to create a 4-5-1 setup if Monterrey snag an early away goal.

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CONCACAF Champions League, Semifinals Preview: Cruz Azul Vs. Monterrey

By Eben Lehman/FMF State of Mind

The second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal between Cruz Azul and Monterrey moves to Estadio Azul on Wednesday night, a place where Cruz Azul are undefeated on the year. Monterrey won the first semifinal leg 2-1 at home, and judging by the recent league form of both teams this promises to be a worthy sequel.

Monterrey has been one of the hottest teams in Mexico of late, and were winners of three straight league games before a road draw on Sunday afternoon at Toluca. Cruz Azul has been almost as good, going five league games without a loss, a streak that ended with Saturday night's surprising defeat on the road against Santos Laguna.

While neither team managed a win in league play this weekend, both teams were resting key players in anticipation of Wednesday nights match. Defensive midfielder Gerardo Torrado did not appear for Cruz Azul, while Humberto Suazo did not even make the trip to Toluca with his Rayados teammates.

In the first leg of the semifinal, Suazo did not start and played limited minutes as he was still recovering from an injury. Now back close to full strength, the talented Monterrey striker should feature prominently in this match. On the Cruz Azul side, la Maquina played the first leg without key attacking midfielder Christian "Chaco" Gimenez, who was serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. Gimenez is the catalyst for his team’s attack, so expect to see a much more potent offense from Cruz Azul than we saw in the first leg.

Interestingly enough, these two teams will also face each other again next Wednesday in league play, which will be their third meeting in less than a month.

What Happened In Leg 1

Struggling without the calming presence Gimenez, Cruz Azul were soundly outplayed by Monterrey in the previous leg. Even without Suazo in the starting lineup, Monterrey controlled possession and earned a 2-1 win behind goals from Neri Cardozo and Sergio Santana.

Cruz Azul did manage to get on the board, though, with a goal from the unlikely source of defender Adrian Cortes. It proved to be a key score. Though trailing on the aggregate scoreboard, the away goal gives Cruz Azul a great shot to advance in Wednesday’s return leg at home.

Players to watch
  • Cruz Azul: Looking to play a more attacking game at home, the key will be the interplay between Gimenez and striker Emanuel Villa. Gimenez is great at setting up Villa in scoring position, and the two have combined for several goals this year. When Villa scores this team is undefeated, so getting him on the board is of the utmost importance for Cruz Azul. Also keep an eye on Gerardo Torrado, who did not play this weekend against Santos and was clearly missed.
  • Monterrey: Suazo is the best player on the team and always a joy to watch, but the key player may actually be his partner up top: Aldo de Nigris. De Nigris scored last week in a great outing with the Mexican national team, and then followed that up with a goal on Sunday afternoon against Toluca. While Suazo naturally draws lost of attention from opposing defenses, an in-form de Nigris can also not be ignored. De Nigris is dangerous in many ways, but especially in the air with his head if he finds any kind of space in the box./li>
Probable lineups
  • Cruz Azul (4-4-1-1): GK: Corona; DF: Pinto, Cervantes, Ponce, Dominguez; MF: Droguett, Pineda, Torrado, Villaluz; Gimenez; FW: Villa
  • Monterrey (4-4-2): GK: Orozco; DF: Osorio, Basanta, Morales, S. Perez; MF: Cardozo, Ayovi, L. Perez, Martinez; FW: De Nigris, Suazo
Head to head
  • Cruz Azul wins if: When Gimenez sets him up in good position, Villa knows how to finish. If Villa can get Cruz Azul out to an early lead it also takes all the pressure off the home side. A 1-0 win would be good enough to send Cruz Azul through. If Villa can get going early, though, this team is capable of scoring multiple goals in a flash.
  • Monterrey wins if: Containing Villa will be the number one task of the Monterrey defense. The Rayados come in with the aggregate score advantage, so all they need to do is keep Cruz Azul off the scoresheet. They are certainly capable. While the Monterrey stars are all on the attacking end, this is also one of the best defensive units in the league. Monterrey have conceded just four goals in their last eight league matches. One complicating factor, though, is goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco’s ankle injury. Orozco picked up the injury in training last week, and while he played on Sunday against Toluca, he was still in considerable pain.
Prediction

In front of the home crowd, Villa breaks through for an early goal and breaks the match wide open. With both teams attacking, Monterrey cannot gain the traction they had in the first leg. With Gimenez leading the attack, and Torrado controlling the midfield, Cruz Azul scores multiple goals to advance to their third straight CCL final.

For more Primera League coverage visit FMFStateOfMind.

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CONCACAF Champions League, Semifinal: Real Salt Lake Moves On To Final

Real Salt Lake has made history, becoming the first Major League Soccer team to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League final with a 3-2 aggregate goal victory over Saprissa in the the semifinals. Saprissa outscored RSL 2-1 on Tuesday, but it wasn't enough to overcome their two-goal deficit. RSL will now face the winner of the Cruz Azul-Monterrey semifinal. The final will start on April 19 and be played in Mexico before returning the Salt Lake on April 26.

RSL entered this leg with a 2-0 lead and their lead was never in serious jeopardy. Saprissa opened the second half with a quick goal to cut the deficit in half, but RSL answered about 15 minutes later on a Jamison Olave goal that essentially put the match out of reach. Alonso Solis was able to pull one goal back on a 87th minute penalty, but it was largely trivial as Saprissa would have still needed two more goals to advance.

The finals appearance gives RSL the chance to become just the second MLS team in history to win a continental championship. The 2000 Los Angeles Galaxy won what was then called the CONCACAF Champions Cup - which was played under a different format - and would have played in the Club World Cup if it had not been canceled that year. 

The victory also keeps alive RSL's dream of accomplishing the unprecedented "Quad," which would involve them winning the CCL, U.S. Open Cup, Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup. No MLS team has even won three of those championships in the same year. The 2002 Los Angeles Galaxy came closest to accomplishing the Treble, having won the MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield and losing in the Open Cup final.


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CONCACAF Champions League, Semifinals: Jamison Olave Puts A Dagger Through Saprissa's Heart

Just as it seemed that Saprissa was climbing back into their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal with Real Salt Lake, Jamison Olave all but destroyed those hopes. The RSL defender smashed home a waste-high volley that had ricocheted off a Saprissa defender and gave his team a 3-1 aggregate goal lead in the 61st minute. With the away-goal rule in effect, Saprissa will need to score at least three more goals in order to advance to the finals.

The goal-scoring sequence was started on a corner kick by Fabian Espindola. RSL defender Nat Borchers was able to get a solid header on it and the ball hit off the shoulder of a Saprissa defender and right back to Olave, who took the ball out of the air and struck it from about six yards out. The Saprissa crowd, which had just started to come back to life, fell silent as Olave celebrated with his hands cupped to his ears. 

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Saprissa Vs. Real Salt Lake: Luis Cordero Cuts Saprissa's Deficit In Half

In the first minute of the second half, Luis Cordero has put the tension back into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. The midfielder's strike from about 20 yards brought Saprissa back within a goal of Real Salt Lake. The aggregate score now sits at 2-1.

The score also seemed to wake up the crowd, which had begun to quiet down after their team went scoreless in the first half. Since the goal, the 30,000-plus fans have been in full chorus and the RSL players do seem to feeling a bit of pressure as they've so far been on their heels during the second half.

Prior to the goal, Saprissa had the better of the play and had created more scoring chances, but RSL had actually ended up with the two best chances. The next goal will be especially important. A goal from RSL would essentially give RSL a three-goal lead, as they would have the away-goal tiebreaker.

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CONCACAF Champions League, Semifinals: Saprissa & Real Salt Lake Scoreless At Halftime

If you would have told Real Salt Lake before the match that they could have a 0-0 scoreline at halftime they would have taken it in a heartbeat. Well, they have it. The MLS side came into the match with a 2-0 aggregate lead after their home leg and playing Costa Rican side Saprissa at the intimidating Saprissa Stadium, 0-0 is a fantastic scoreline for Salt Lake. This is the fourth year of the CONCACAF Champions League and the winner of this semifinal will become the first non-Mexican side to make the final. Now Salt Lake is just 45 minutes away from becoming that team.

It would be unfair to say that Salt Lake came into the match playing for the 0-0 draw. They didn't go with an ultra-defensive lineup, instead playing their regular starting XI. They also took a few chances to go forward in the first half, but make no mistake, this was a team clearly thinking safety first. Even so, the visitors had the two best chances of the first half, first when Kyle Beckerman got free 10 yards from goal only to be denied by a fantastic save. Later on, it looked like Salt Lake were going to get a goal on a set piece, but once again a great save kept the scoreline even.

While Salt Lake has had the two best chances of the match, Saprissa has carried most of the play. The opening 15 minutes were dominated by Saprissa and they put Salt Lake under a great deal of pressure. Unfortunately for the home side, they have been unable to turn their possession and attacks into shots on goal. Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando has done well to gather some crosses, but hasn't been asked to do much in the way of saves. If Saprissa are to manage the two goals they need to at least force extra time they will need to figure out how to challenge Rimando.

The opening 45 minutes were extremely rough as both side showed no hesitation to go in on tackles. Several players from both teams spent time on the turf. With Saprissa's desperation only growing and Salt Lake needing to be firm in the tackle, the physicality is only likely to increase in what will be another rough 45 minutes in San Juan.

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CONCACAF Champions League, Semifinals: Saprissa Vs. Real Salt Lake Lineups

The lineups are in for tonight's second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals and if anything is clear it is that Real Salt Lake aren't going to bunker in to protect their 2-0 lead. The visitors are going to Saprissa Stadium with their normal lineup and will attempt to play as they always do, at least to begin the match. Whether that's still the case later on remains to be seen, but they'll give it a go for at least a little while.

Meanwhile, Saprissa is going with a radically different defense than they went with in the first leg. Their captain, Victor Cordero, is back in the starting XI and two men who came on as substitues in the first leg, Oscar Duarte and Luis Diego Cordero, will start. That means that the home side are going with three new defenders so Salt Lake will definitely be facing a different opposition than the one they put two past at home. The lone defensive starter who started the first leg and is starting tonight is Roberto Wong, but not even two Wongs would make a right back

Saprissa- Bolivar - Duarte, Cordero, Cordero, Wong - Alonso, Guzman, Phillips - Centeno - Arrieta, Martinez

Real Salt Lake - Rimando - Russell, Borchers, Olave, Wingert - Beckerman, Williams, Johnson, Morales - Saborio, Espindola

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CONCACAF Champions League, Semifinals Preview: Saprissa Vs. Real Salt Lake

When this CONCACAF Champions League semifinal started back on March 15, it was billed as a battle between two of the best home-field advantages in the region. Well, Real Salt Lake certainly held up their end of the bargain, beating Saprissa 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Now the series moves back to Saprissa Stadium, where the Purple Dragon has won 73 percent of its international competitions since 2004. They've also looked strong at home recently, having gone unbeaten in their past five and outscoring their opponents 7-0 over that stretch. Overall, their only loss since Feb. 13 was that match against RSL, as Saprissa has won nine of 12 matches and outscored their opponents 21-8 during that stretch.

The stadium is notorious for its, shall we say, subpar facilities. The turf is considered to be particularly tough, the stands are concrete and the locker rooms are spartan, especially by U.S. standards. 

Making it even tougher will be the fans. The stadium has been reported as a sellout and RSL should expect a hostile environment featuring 24,000 purple-clad supporters who will no doubt be singing, chanting and making enough noise to render thinking a luxury.

If RSL is able to navigate their way to a first CCL finals appearance for a MLS team, they'll have earned it.

What Happened In Leg 1

Buoyed by a goal by former Saprissa man Alvaro Saborio in the 9th minute, RSL had their way with Saprissa and cruised to a 2-0 victory that also included a Nat Borchers goal that was incorrectly waved off. The RSL defenders were able to handle the twin threats of Jair Arrieta and Alejandro Sequiera with relative ease and Javier Morales was able to find plenty of room to run the attack.

Players to watch
  • Saprissa: Trailing by two goals and facing the prospect of needing at least four if RSL scores, you can bet the Purple Monster will be in full-on attack mode. With that in mind, Arrieta and Sequiera really are the gears that make Saprissa's offense tick. The duo has combined for 22 goals in a combined 48 appearances. Arrieta has been the better player in CCL play, having scored three goals in the competition. That's enough to share the team lead with Armando Alonso. Although Walter Centeno has not done much in CCL play, the attacking midfielder is still capable of big moments despite being 36.
  • Real Salt Lake:  An early goal would all but clinch a spot in the finals, but expect RSL to play it relatively safe. There's no question they have the physical advantage over Saprissa, so they can probably afford to look more for the counter-strike. The play of center backs Jamison Olave and Borchers will be huge, but so will defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who will likely be the man springing some of those counter-strikes.
Probable lineups
  • Saprissa (4-1-3-2): GK:Bolivar; DF: Wong, V. Cordero, L. Cordero, Badilla; MF: Castillo, Guzman, Ortiz; Centeno; FW: Martinez, A. Sequeira
  • Real Salt Lake (4-4-2): GK: Rimando; DF: Wingert, Borchers, Olave, Beltran; MF: Johnson, Beckerman, Morales, Grabavoy; FW: Saborio, Espindola
Head to head
  • Saprissa wins if: Simply put, they need to score early and often. An early goal changes the complexion of this game and should open it up some. A second goal would turn the semifinal on its head and force RSL into a much more attack-oriented mindset. At that point, the crowd would be in a frenzy and Saprissa would suddenly be in control.
  • Real Salt Lake if: Scoring just one goal puts Saprissa in the position of needing four to win (because of away goals being the first tie-breakers). But even without scoring, RSL can probably afford to come in with a defensive mindset and just look for openings on the counter.  
Prediction

Saprissa scores an early goal, but gets caught over-committing and giving RSL a chance to pick up the ever-important away goal. Saprissa will be missing three starters from their first encounter due to yellow-card accumulation - David Sequiera, Jose Mena and Ricardo Blanco - and that just seems to steep a hill to climb.

For more Real Salt Lake coverage, visit RSL Soapbox.

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