(by James Edwards deseretnews.com 8-4-15)
Playing in Central America is never easy for MLS teams, but that didn’t seem to bother Real Salt Lake on Tuesday night as it opened CONCACAF Champions League group play with a dream start.
Joao Plata scored just three minutes into the match, and then Nick Rimando made a critical save late in the game as RSL held on for the 1-0 victory over Municipal in its first of four CCL Group G games.
Three nights earlier in a league match at D.C. United, Plata scored an early goal as well, but 90 minutes later RSL walked off the field a 6-4 loser. On Tuesday in Guatemala, all 11 players defended with much more purpose to make amends for the defensive debacle in D.C.
RSL’s next Champions League match isn’t until Sept. 15 when it travels to El Salvador to face Santa Tecla. Its final two group games will be at Rio Tinto Stadium, and after winning the opener on the road, RSL jumped right into the Group G driver’s seat.
It’s been three years since Real Salt Lake last participated in Champions League play, and in that 2012 opener it lost at Herediano in Costa Rica 2-0. It could never dig itself out of the hole and finished second in the group.
Plata helped get RSL off to the perfect start.
After Municipal’s keeper punched away a Javier Morales cross, the rebound only went as far as Plata. He took a slight touch and then uncorked a bouncing shot between a Municipal player’s legs and into the back of the net for the very early 1-0 lead.
Municipal nearly equalized in the 41st minute, but former L.A. Galaxy striker Carlos Ruiz caromed a bending free kick off the cross bar.
In the 66th minute, Plata was unlucky not to bury a second goal when a defender jumped to clear his shot off the line.
Rimando was called up throughout the night to make clutch plays, but none was bigger than his 78th minute save on an unmarked Ruiz after a Municipal cross rolled through the box right to Ruiz. Anticipating the shot, Rimando dove to his right and smothered what could’ve easily been the equalizer for the home side.
For Real Salt Lake, it has another quick turnaround this Saturday as it travels to Vancouver for a league match.