Thursday April 21st, 2011

Three thoughts after Real Salt Lake's 2-2 tie against Mexican champion Monterrey in Wednesday's first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final:

Javier Morales scored what may become one of the biggest goals in MLS history -- When you combine the timing and the skill, Morales' 89th-minute strike has to go up near the top of important MLS goals. After a nice bit of work by Arturo Álvarez on the right side, Morales took his pass, maneuvered into the Monterrey box and then did something absolutely magical. He paused, showing a safe-cracker's poise, and froze his defender before firing a laser inside the left post. The 2-2 draw means that Monterrey will have to win or score at least two goals and get a result to survive in next Wednesday's return leg in Utah. And keep in mind: Salt Lake's home unbeaten run stands at 34 games in all competitions, possibly the longest streak in the world.

Losing Kyle Beckerman next week hurts Salt Lake -- RSL's captain, the heart and soul of the team, will miss the return leg after drawing a (somewhat harsh) yellow card on Wednesday. Salt Lake has had plenty of occasions to showcase its depth recently, and next week will test it again. Will Beckerman's backup, Haitian international Jean Alexandre, get the call next week? We'll see. The pressure will be on to provide the kind of steel in the midfield that Beckerman brings every week.

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando saved Salt Lake's bacon -- Monterrey controlled the play for much of the second half, and Rayados looked dangerous as it pushed for a 3-1 lead that would have made next week awfully difficult for Salt Lake. Monterrey seemed on the verge of doing it late in the game when star forward Humberto Suazo got in one-on-one against Rimando. But the 5-foot-10 Rimando literally made a huge play, rushing out at Suazo and making himself as big as possible to cut off the angle and force the Chilean into an errant shot. It appeared that Rimando's play would send Salt Lake back to Utah with a workable 2-1 deficit (away goals matter in this final), but then Morales's late theatrics made it an even more memorable night for MLS's best team. RSL is 90 minutes from becoming the first MLS team to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

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