For 90 minutes, Tauro FC keeper Vladimir Villareal turned away everything Real Salt Lake fired at him. All of that was wiped away with one clumsy challenge in stoppage time on Tuesday night.
Alvaro Saborio converted a 92nd-minute penalty kick after Villareal tripped him up in the box as RSL escaped with a 1-0 victory on a hot, humid night in Panama in CONCACAF Champions League group play.
"All in all, our quality wasn't good enough tonight, so I think we have to find ourselves very fortunate for Saborio at the end of the game that gets a penalty kick call," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Villareal got both hands on Saborio's penalty, but it still found the back of the net as Saborio improved to 12-for-12 all-time in PKs in an RSL uniform.
A tie would've been disastrous to RSL's chances of winning the three-team group and advancing to next February's CCL quarterfinals. Thanks to Saborio's dramatic penalty kick, though, the group's top spot will be up for grabs when RSL hosts Costa Rican club Herediano on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
A two-goal victory over Herediano would be enough to push Real Salt Lake onto the next round.
The win was RSL's first away from Rio Tinto Stadium since a 3-0 win at Chivas USA back on June 16.
"It feels good to go on the road and get a result," said RSL keeper Nick Rimando.
After a 2-0 victory at home against Tauro FC last month, Real Salt Lake was confident it could get a similar result in Panama — especially after traveling to Central America on Saturday to acclimate to the humid conditions.
Despite playing without suspended midfielder Kyle Beckerman, RSL enjoyed the better of the play throughout the match. Its quality in the final third, which has been a major problem the past two months, was again a struggle.
Despite a 57-43 edge in possession and 16 total shots, RSL failed to capitalize on the opportunities, as it took a penalty kick in stoppage time to keep its CCL hopes alive.
"For me, all night we're not finding the right numbers to get involved in the attacks, and that typically means we're not going to have very many successful ones," said Kreis.
"We got to figure out a way to get more numbers involved in our attack if we want to be effective in the attacking half of the field."
Coach Kreis' team came out with a patient attack on Tuesday, not wanting to get beat on the counter attack. After some clutch saves by Tauro's keeper kept the game scoreless, Real Salt Lake had no choice but to throw caution to the wind in the final 10 minutes.
In the 80th minute, Kreis took off defender Tony Beltran in favor of midfielder Sebastian Velasquez to push more bodies into the attack. Saborio was denied a great chance from the top of the box in the 82nd minute, and then Chris Wingert pushed a close-range header on a corner kick just wide in the 88th minute.
Tauro FC had two separate 5-on-2 counter-attack opportunities in the final five minutes, but it was denied both times by great desperate defending by Jamison Olave, who was making his first start in a month.
Unfortunately for RSL, PK hero Saborio will be suspended for the Herediano match next month after picking up a 65th yellow card on Tuesday — his second in CCL group play. Saborio will also be out this Saturday as RSL returns home to face Portland in Major League Soccer play as the striker picked up a shoulder injury on the foul that led to the penalty kick. He will be out 2-4 weeks.
Four thousand miles away in Panama, Real Salt Lake is preparing for what Ned Grabavoy said is the team's biggest match of the season.
Success in the CONCACAF Champions League is one of RSL's highest priorities each season, but escaping Panama with a victory over equally desperate Tauro FC this evening at 6 p.m. is an absolute must if RSL has any realistic hope of advancing out of group play.
At the midway point of group play, Real Salt Lake (1-1-0) sits three points behind Costa Rican club Herediano (2-0-0), and three points clear of Tauro (0-2-0). Only the group winner advances.
Unless RSL secures the full three points in Panama, Herediano can clinch first place in the group on Sept. 25 with a victory over Tauro FC — rendering its match with RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium in late October meaningless.
RSL is well rested after coming off a 12-day layoff, and coach Jason Kreis is confident the way his team is playing lately.
"I feel like we've been performing well for several weeks. I feel like we've gotten past our summer doldrums. I feel like the group is feeling pretty confident, positive about what they're doing," Kreis said.
"I also feel like our team performs at its best when they have their backs against the wall, and we clearly have our backs against the wall for this one."
Tauro's hopes are more bleak after opening CCL play with two losses, but a victory over Real Salt Lake keeps its slim hopes alive.
"It's my feeling they are going to approach this game the way I would, which is they have to win. They're not dead yet. They have to beat us and then beat Herediano and then hope for some things to go right between Herediano and us. I would expect that means an ultra-, ultra-aggressive Tauro team come Tuesday night," Kreis said.
In the previous meeting between these two teams at Rio Tinto Stadium, Tauro FC largely sat back and tried to counter-attack. Nothing came of it as Real Salt Lake prevailed 2-0. A similar approach is unlikely at Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
Kyle Beckerman is suspended for the match after picking up a red card late in the Tauro victory last month. He's missed four league games this season and Real Salt Lake is 2-2-0 without him, including its most recent 1-0 loss at Houston.
Game-time temperature will be in the upper 80s to lower 90s, with up to 80 percent humidity. RSL hasn't fared well historically in humid climates, but Kreis hopes that by traveling to Panama on Saturday and getting in a Sunday and Monday training session, his players will be better prepared to handle the conditions.
Familiarity could help RSL as well. Back in September 2010, it ground out a 3-2 victory in Panama over Arabe Unido in the same stadium it will play in tonight.
If Kreis' team can duplicate that success, the CCL Group 2 finale at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 25 between Real Salt Lake and Herediano will determine who advances to the Champions League quarterfinals next February.
The United States defied expectations – and a rowdy crowd elated by Mexico's Olympic gold – to break a 75-year winless streak against its neighboring rival with an 80th minute goal and a series of saves that delivered a 1-0 victory.
Michael Orozco Fiscal's goal and Tim Howard's late sprawling saves left tens of thousands of fans at intimidating Azteca Stadium in stunned silence. The glum crowds filing out after the game Wednesday night were stark counterpoint to a first half marked by raucous booing, choruses of booing, tossed drinks and laser pointers, all aimed at the Americans or their few fans.
The stadium is one of soccer's toughest for road teams, but the 56,000 fans at the half-full Azteca seemed driven beyond their usual aggressiveness by Mexico's Olympic win on Saturday – some of the winners entered the stadium at halftime to an ear-splitting welcome and rounds of fireworks.
Then, overcoming the side that dominated them for most of the night, the Americans went ahead on a move created by a trio of second-half substitutes.
Brek Shea cut inside Severo Meza on the left flank and crossed to Terrence Boyd at the top of the 6-yard box. With his back to the goal, Boyd took a touch with his left foot and with his right made a quick backheel pass to Orozco Fiscal, who with his left foot poked it from 3 yards past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and defender Jorge Torres Nilo for his first international goal.
"The goal was for the U.S. fans and the whole U.S. We made history," said Orozco Fiscal, a 26-year-old defender from Orange, Calif., who plays in Mexico for San Luis.
He entered in the 77th minute for his fifth international appearance and first since October. Shea, back with the team for the first time since February following a season of turmoil in Major League Soccer, came on a minute later. Boyd had entered to start the second half.
"Just happy we won and made history," Shea said. "It's something we haven't done in a long time. Just to be on the roster is cool."
Howard preserved the lead, changing directions to stop a deflected shot by Javier Hernandez in the 85th, then pawing away a 4-yard downward header by Chicharito in the 89th.
"I think it's huge. It's huge for I think all American fans, it's huge for the team, and it's historic," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We were very well aware that we've never won here at the Azteca Stadium. This is an amazing experience for the all the players. We told them before the game: This moment is for you, go and grab it."
The U.S. had been 0-23-1 against El Tri in 75 years of games at Mexico, including 0-19-1 in the thin air at altitude in Mexico City – where they had been outscored 81-14.
"You can shrivel up or you can accept it," Howard said. "We deserved a little bit of luck, and we got it tonight."
Mexico outshot the U.S. 15-6 and had a 10-0 advantage in corner kicks. But the Americans came away with their second big win this year, following February's first-ever victory over Italy, in a friendly at Genoa.
"Tim Howard kept us in the game I don't know how many times," said Klinsmann, who has been trying to change the defensive mindset the American had at times under Bob Bradley.
With the European clubs getting their seasons under way, the U.S. used a half-strength roster and a makeshift central defense.
Mexico also was below strength following the Olympics – Carlos Salcido, its regular left back, started in the win over Brazil in the gold-medal game. El Tri dominated possession but failed to connect on several open shots as the Americans paired Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron in the center of their back line in the absence of Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu.
"For me, it's a game that I grew up watching," Cameron said of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry. "To be a part of a win for the first time speaks for itself.'"'
The game marked the start of the Americans' second year under Klinsmann, who replaced Bradley last summer after Mexico overcame a two-goal deficit to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup final 4-2.
The U.S. figures to have a lineup closer to full strength for a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica next month, on the road on Sept. 7 and at Columbus, Ohio, four days later. Mexico plays Costa Rica on those same days.
"We know we have to improve in many, many elements," Klinsmann said. "We have to keep the ball longer. We have to create more chances. We have to do a lot of work still. But I think this gives us a lot of confidence."
Landon Donovan, searching for his 50th international goal, left at the start of the second half because of a tight hamstring and DaMarcus Beasley came in for his 97th international appearance. Boyd came in at the same time to replace an ineffective Jose Torres.
Cameron got his head on a cross from Elias Hernandez in the 56th minute, preventing Hernandez from an open shot in front. A minute later, Jesus Zavala put an open header over the crossbar.
With Ochoa off his line, Kyle Beckerman put a long, sliding shot just over the crossbar in the 60th.
Andres Guardado hooked a free kick just wide to Howard's right post in the 65th after Cameron fouled Hernandez just outside the penalty area. Hernandez then sent an open header wide in the 76th off a cross from Hernandez.
"It was very difficult in high altitude, with many of them flying in from Europe two days ago," Klinsmann said. "But we had a plan, and we tried to execute that plan and getting that win here, I mean it's quite enjoyable."
NOTES: The only previous U.S. non-loss against Mexico in Mexico was a 0-0 tie in a 1997 World Cup qualifier. At the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup, the U.S. beat New Zealand and Germany in Guadalajara before losing to Mexico 1-0 in overtime at Azteca.