(by Kyle Spencer ksl.com 10-20-15)
Jamison Olave's 43rd minute header was enough to seal Real Salt Lake's passage into the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage for the first time since 2011.
RSL's 1-0 win over Guatemalan side Municipal Tuesday night moved its record in home Champions League fixtures to 8-1-1 all time. Javier Morales' inswinger off a corner in the 43rd minute gave RSL the lead, as Olave leaped the highest and buried his header inside the far post.
"I couldn't be more happy for (Olave), for out team and for our club, for our fans," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "That space was open all night - that front area to the top of the six. I really liked where Jamison started, he started a little bit deeper and was coming in rather than being already there, which we were on a few but beautiful service from Javi and a fantastic finish from Jamison."
RSL threatened all first half, holding a 60 to 40 edge in possession and outshooting Municipal seven to four, with two on goal to the visitors' zero.
But it took a precisely placed cross from Morales, who dictated how the home side played in the attacking third all night.
"Before that play, we had a corner kick and the No. 7, a small guy, he was marking me," Olave said. "I told Javier, ‘just put the ball here because he's too small for me. So the next play he put the ball there and that's how I scored."
Municipal was content to sit deep with the intent to try and catch RSL off-guard on a counterattack until the breakthrough, and then pressed much higher in the second half. The Guatemalan club's attack finally amounted to a legitimate goal-scoring opportunity in the 76th minute, when it won a free kick around 30 yards out from RSL's goal. Municipal's captain, Carlos Ruiz, shot off the set piece that appeared destined for the upper left corner of RSL's net, but Nick Rimando flew to his right to tip the ball over the bar.
"When you think of Nicky, you think of massive saves that keep us in games," Cassar said. "That was a huge save. Great technique, great free kick from Carlos Ruiz. (Rimando) had seen that one before so maybe he had an idea of it, but that was a critical time that we needed that play."
Chants of "Nick Rimando" echoed around Rio Tinto Stadium following the momentous denial from the announced 18,132 in attendance. The serenade was then replicated from those who remained in their seats after the final whistle blew. Captain Kyle Beckerman made a lap around the stadium after the 90 minutes had concluded, high-fiving everyone left on the first row.
"(The fans) have been really great to us since the start, even before I got here," he said. "We knew it was a tough year for everyone, so it was just a thank you for them."
RSL's Champions League quarterfinal date and opponent are yet to be announced, with the final group-stage matches taking place Wednesday, but after finishing with 10 points it's tied for the most with D.C. United. Last time RSL advanced past the group stage, it became the first-ever MLS team to make it to the final before dropping the second leg, 1-0, to fall 3-2 on aggregate to Monterrey.
Welcome to the RSL Cup blog
I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996. Lately however I've started to worry about the path MLS is taking and the poor decisions they are making that in my mind threaten the growth of soccer as a whole in the US. (see "Columbus conspiracy" section) Soccer in America will grow only when we have a vibrant and diverse minor league system, something that MLS seems to be smothering at the moment. (see "American soccer wars" section) Let's keep our eyes on the situation and hope for the best, a future where grass-roots soccer and the minor leagues can not only exist but flourish, as well as where the contributions and history of the league's early clubs are appreciated and preserved.