Real Salt Lake’s CONCACAF Champions League hopes were handed an early setback as they fell 1-0 to Costa Rica’s Herediano on Tuesday evening at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San José.
Playing their first game in the competition since dropping the 2010-11 final to Monterrey, RSL already find themselves in a hole, though they can look forward to a pair of home games as they attempt the top spot in Group 2.
Elias Aguilar's well-worked strike from just outside the area in the 14th minute stood up as the game-winner and Nat Borchers’ 57th-minute red card plus an injury to Jámison Olave compounded RSL’s woes.
It proved a disappointing setback for an RSL side keen on replicating its run from two years ago, and fielding its first-choice starting XI for the first time since May 5 of this year.
However, Herediano looked sharper early on, compressing space well in the midfield and utilizing their pace to good effect. After a few close calls, including a smart save on a bicycle kick from defender Pablo Salazar, the Costa Ricans finally took the lead.
A well-worked play down the left hand side saw Yendrick Ruiz turn a clever backheel into the path of Aguilar, who shed a lunging Kyle Beckerman and lashed a left-footed strike past the outstreched Nick Rimando.
RSL looked stronger after the goal, with Fabián Espíndola especially effective running at the Herediano defense from all angles. However, the Argentine also spurned the best RSL chance of the first half, springing behind the backline, only to poke his shot inches wide of the far post.
Though the visitors continued to press early in the first half, with Javier Morales going especially close, their troubles were compounded near the hour mark, when they lost both their starting center backs.
Borchers saw red for a dangerous challenge near midfield, and before an attacking player could be sacrificed to bring on backup center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Olave went down with an injury. The further complications forced Jason Kreis to bring on both Watson-Siriboe and Kenny Mansally, with Chris Wingert shifting over to join Watson-Siriboe in the center of defense.
Though RSL did push for an equalizer, their makeshift lineup was unable to make a dent on the scoreline, meaning that Herediano (1-0-0) emerge as early leaders of the group with RSL (0-1-0) needing to dig deep to overtake them in the race for first place.
Salt Lake will get a chance to do just that when they host Panamanian outfit Tauro on Aug. 21, with Herediano next in CCL action nine days later, when they visit Tauro. RSL are back in MLS action on Aug. 4 at Colorado.