SANDY, Utah – An inspired performance by midfielder Javier Morales and Andy Williams led Real Salt Lake to a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Crew at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night as RSL became the first-ever MLS team to qualify to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
RSL scored two first-half goals on near identical plays as Costa Rican Álvaro Saborío and Morales found the back of the net in the 23rd and 36th minutes. A goal by Peruvian forward Andres Mendoza early in the second half cut the score to 2-1 and gave the Crew a glimmer of hope. However, a second Morales goal with 13 minutes remaining extinguished any hopes of a Columbus comeback. And Williams added the icing on the cake with a majestic free kick on the final play of the game.
Real Salt Lake advance to face the winner of the other quarterfinal between Saprissa and Olimpia. The second leg in that aggregate goal series takes place on Thursday night with the Costa Rican side carrying a narrow 1-0 lead.
It was Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborío who opened the scoring in the 23rd minute on his seventh goal of the tournament. Morales received a one-time flick pass from Williams before serving Saborio, who timed his run to beat the Crew’s offside trap. Saborio received the through pass from Morales and fired home to put RSL ahead 1-0.
It was Williams and Morales again that hooked up for the second RSL goal in the 36th minute, with the Jamaican spotting a run by Morales into the same gap in the Crew back line that led to Saborio’s first goal. The Argentine playmaker collected the lead pass and immediately fired a right-footed shot that rolled past goalkeeper Ray Burse Jr. for a 2-0 lead.
It was a deserved lead for the hosts, who played their trademark possession game in a match which saw a vocal crowd of over 15,000 hanging on every play. RSL’s Will Johnson set off the first spark of the match with a 13th minute blast that had the goalkeeper beat but struck the crossbar.
The Crew attack struggled to threaten the RSL goal with strong defensive play from central defender Jamison Olave and goalkeeper Nick Rimando proving the difference.
Columbus was back in the match with a dream start to the second half and a goal just four minutes after the break. Midfielder Eddie Gaven scooped a pass destined for teammate Robbie Rogers in the RSL penalty area. The ball instead bounced to a wide open Mendoza who powered home a left-footed shot inside the far right post, giving the visitors renewed hope at 2-1.
Burse was forced into several stops early in the second half, beating Johnson to a loose ball in the box in the 55th minute, stopping a point-blank Fabian Espindola header in the 64th minute and making the save of the night on a 68th-minute close-range header from Saborio. On the ensuing corner kick RSL defender Chris Schuler headed the ball against the crossbar.
Morales then iced the match in the 77th minute, receiving a pass in the box from second-half substitute Paulo Jr. and firing a low shot for his second goal of the match and a more comfortable 3-1 lead.
Williams converted a late free kick on the final play of the match, curling the ball over the Crew wall and into the top left corner of the goal, rounding out the scoring at 4-1.
The Champions League semifinal series featuring RSL will also take place over two legs on March 15 at Rio Tinto and on April 5 in Costa Rica or Honduras. Real Salt Lake ensured themselves a weekend off from MLS league play ahead of the April 5 away leg.
Both Real Salt Lake and Columbus dive right back into additional preseason tests as they prepare for the start of the 2011 MLS regular season. Real Salt Lake will face Sporting Kansas City on March 8 in Phoenix, Ariz., while the Crew have a game scheduled in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Sunday, March 6 against New England before heading to Kennesaw, Ga., for the Atlanta Pro Soccer Challenge.
RSL -- Alvaro Saborio (Javier Morales, Andy Williams) 23
RSL -- Javier Morales (Andy Williams, Fabian Espindola) 36
CLB -- Andres Mendoza (Eddie Gaven) 49
RSL -- Javier Morales (Paulo Araujo Jr.) 77
RSL -- Andy Williams (unassisted) 95+
Columbus Crew -- Ray Burse Jr., Rich Balchan, Andy Iro, Sebastian Miranda, Josh Gardner (Julius James 60), Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo (Dilly Duka 75), Cole Grossman, Robbie Rogers, Jeff Cunningham (Justin Meram 65), Andres Mendoza.
Substitutes Not Used: Bernardo Anor, Tommy Heinemann, Josh Williams, William Hesmer.
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert, Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales (Ned Grabavoy 87), Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio (Paulo Araujo Jr. 71), Fabian Espindola (Jean Alexandre 85).
Substitutes Not Used: Arturo Alvarez, Rauwshan McKenzie, Collen Warner, Kyle Reynish.
CLB -- Josh Gardner (caution; Reckless Foul) 43
RSL -- Javier Morales (caution; Enters without Permission) 57
CLB -- Sebastian Miranda (caution; Reckless Foul) 94+
Referee: Mark Geiger
Referee's Assistants: Corey Rockwell, George Gansner
4th Official: Terry Vaughn
Time of Game: 1:52
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-40-degrees