SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake scored a goal in each half to earn a comfortable 2-0 victory over Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series played at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night.
RSL’s starting forwards capitalized on their scoring opportunities with Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio striking after just nine minutes, while Argentine Fabian Espindola scored in the 56th minute. Both plays were inspired by Jamaican midfielder Andy Williams.
RSL will now look to make their aggregate goal lead stand up in the second leg in San José, Costa Rica, on April 5.
The most watched player of the series, ex-Saprissa striker Saborío, got RSL off to a strong start with the all-important early goal. Williams spotted an unmarked Espíndola at the top of the box and the Argentine slotted a lateral pass to Saborío, who sent a low, diagonal shot inside the left post.
Saborío had said he would not celebrate a goal against his former club, but he pumped his arms in the air nonetheless, almost a release of the pressure brought on by this first match against the team which he helped win a CONCACAF title in 2005.
[inline_node:322218]RSL will argue that Saborío’s goal should have made it 2-0 since the MLS side hit the back of the net three minutes earlier. Javier Morales touched a ball to an unmarked Espíndola, who crossed the ball from the left side to the top of the six-yard box. The service found defender Nat Borchers, who was advanced on the play and headed home cleanly. The referee whistled for an infraction although replays did not indicate that one was evident.
After the opening goal, Saprissa would go on to control possession for the rest of what became a chippy first half. The visitors thought they had a goal in the 24th minute but the referee whistled for offside on Jairo Arrieta at the start of the sequence which ended with the ball in the back of the RSL net.
Eight minutes later, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was forced into action. After defender Robbie Russell was stripped of the ball near his own penalty area, forward Josue Martínez was released in the box and fired a left-footed shot which Rimando parried away.
RSL was forced to start the second half without reigning MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave, who left the match with a right hamstring strain. Chris Schuler came on to replace him and was immediately presented with a clear look at goal on a 48th-minute corner kick which he sent high over the bar.
The home team would double their lead minutes later as Espíndola collected a long feed from Williams on the left side. He easily sidestepped Saprissa defender Roberto Wong and slotted the ball home from the top of the box to make it 2-0.
Rimando ensured Saprissa did not claim an away goal at Rio Tinto Stadium with an impressive double save in the 64th minute. First he parried a long-distance effort from David Guzman and then came off his line to stuff Arrieta’s follow-up shot.
Moments after, a Will Johnson header hit the side netting, Arturo Alvarez came on to make his RSL debut in the final two minutes of the match.
RSL are now unbeaten in 35 consecutive matches across all competitions at Rio Tinto Stadium. A win or tie will be enough for Jason Kreis’s team to become the first MLS team to advance to a Champions League final.
Next up for the Claret-and-Cobalt is their MLS season-opening match away to the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday (10:30 pm ET).
RSL – Saborío (Espindola, Williams) 9’
RSL – Espíndola (Williams) 56’
Real Salt Lake (4-4-2, left to right): Nick Rimando – Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave (46’ Chris Schuler), Robbie Russell – Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Andy Williams (Ned Grabavoy 67’)– Álvaro Saborío, Fabian Espíndola (Arturo Alvarez 88’)
Subs Not Used: Kyle Reynish, Jean Alexandre, Paulo Jr., Collen Warner
Deportivo Saprissa (4-5-1, left to right): Victor Bolivar – Gabriel Badilla (Oscar Duarte 88’), Roberto Wong, Jose Mena, Ricardo Blanco – Jairo Arrieta, David Guzman, Douglas Sequeira, Walter Centeno, Armando Alonso (Mayko Ortiz 77’) – Josue Martinez (Luis Cordero 71’)
Subs Not Used: Fausto Gonzalez, Victor Cordero Flores, Alejandro Sequeira, Saul Fernandez
CAUTIONS: Mena (12’), Arrieta (30’) Badilla (37’), Blanco (73’), Sequeira (81’)
Referee: Enrico Wijngaarde (Suriname)
Assistant Referees: Ricardo Louisville (Suriname), Ricardo Morgan (Jamaica)
Fourth Official: Courtney Campbell (Jamaica)