Thursday April 28th, 2011

Three thoughts after Real Salt Lake's 1-0 loss to Monterrey on Wednesday gave the Mexican team a 3-2 aggregate triumph in the CONCACAF Champions League final:

This was a gut-punch game for RSL and MLS 

All the conditions were there for the most important international achievement in MLS's 16-year history. After an inspiring 2-2 tie last week in Monterrey, Salt Lake needed just a victory or a 0-0 or 1-1 tie to win MLS's first CONCACAF Champions League title and reach the FIFA Club World Cup this December.

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What's more, RSL entered the game with a 34-match home unbeaten run in all competitions, quite likely the longest current streak in world club soccer.

But Salt Lake couldn't convert a flurry of early chances, and Monterrey's Chilean striker Humberto Suazo, perhaps the finest player in CONCACAF, scored the eventual trophy-winner on a play when Salt Lake was guilty of ball-watching.

Some MLS observers had proclaimed before the game that Salt Lake's triumph was in the bag, but Monterrey came up with an impressive victory in a hostile environment. Full credit to Rayados. Sometimes Goliath wins.

Álvaro Saborío didn't show up

You can't blame Real Salt Lake's defeat on one player, but the no-show by RSL's experienced Designated Player forward over the final's two legs was stunning. Saborío had paced Salt Lake with his timely scoring in the earlier games of the Champions League, and you figured that he'd stamp his presence on the final.

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Instead Saborío continued his recent run of poor form, failing to create many dangerous chances–his lone good one was headed right at the goalkeeper–and never seeming to be as active as his front-line mate Fabián Espíndola. On a night when Salt Lake was missing its inspirational captain, Kyle Beckerman, on a yellow-card suspension, it needed Saborío to come up big. The Costa Rican didn't answer the call.

There are no moral victories here 

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There are plenty of positives to take away from Salt Lake's run to the CCL final. RSL played winning, entertaining soccer at home and in tough foreign environments, winning respect for the gains made by MLS. The fans in Salt Lake turned out in great numbers to support their team, showing that they understood exactly what RSL had accomplished. And MLS showed it can go toe-to-toe with the reigning Mexican champion.

But let's be honest: Salt Lake's own players and management said they had to win this final, and their hard work in Monterrey last week set up the home leg perfectly. Not sealing the deal is a crushing blow for a team that had what it took to raise the trophy as the continent's best club team.

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