SANDY, Utah – Youngster Paulo Jr. scored two goals and rookie Collen Warner added a third as a reserve-laden Real Salt Lake lineup proved too much for Cruz Azul in a 3-1 win Tuesday night that clinched the CONCACAF Champions League Group A title for RSL.
RSL become the first MLS team to win a group in the brief three-year history of the tournament’s current incarnation. They’re also one of two MLS teams to reach this year’s quarterfinals after the Columbus Crew earned a berth earlier Tuesday night.
The group play finale played out in front of a Rio Tinto Stadium all-time record of 20,463 fans, mostly split down the middle between the home side and the Mexican juggernauts, who also advance to next year’s CCL quarterfinals by finishing second in the group.
Paulo Jr. drew first blood in the match in the 43rd minute. The play developed when Warner gathered the ball off of a turnover and immediately picked out the young Brazilian with a through ball. The 21-year-old Paulo Jr. and then chipped over onrushing goalkeeper Yosgart Gutiérrez for the finish just before the break.
The youngster added a second goal in the 67th minute, but much of the work went to substitute forward Robbie Findley. Just minutes after coming into the game, the US international got alone on the left flank and delivered a cross that went through the goal mouth to Paulo Jr., who flicked it into the corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.
RSL added a third just minutes later, thanks to a nifty maneuver from veteran Andy Williams, who picked out Warner on a central run for an easy finish.
Cruz Azul midfielder César Villaluz scored the lone goal for the Mexican side in the 71st minute. He found himself unmarked from 25 yards out, and picked out the corner of the far post, beating goalkeeper Kyle Reynish with the effort.
RSL put the clamps on tournament leading scorer Javier Orozco, whose best chance came after Villaluz’s goal on a close-range shot that Reynish steered aside.
Salt Lake rookie Luis Gil made his first start in an MLS kit, but was subbed out at the break after a largely uneventful first half.