Álvaro Saborío's 93rd-minute penalty kick propelled Real Salt Lake to a 1-0 win over Panamanian champions Tauro FC on Tuesday night in Panama City, keeping the Claret-and-Cobalt alive and in control of their fate in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage.
RSL knew they needed to collect the full three points to draw them even with Costa Rican champions Herediano at the top of Group 2 on six points and plus-two goal differential, setting up a likely winner-take-all matchup on Oct. 23 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
For a team that mathematically had to post a win, Tauro played surprisingly defensively, aiming to snatch a goal on the counterattack.
Will Johnson had the first clear chance of the game, but shanked his left-footed volley from close range across the face of goal and through Saborío's legs with the best chance of the first half.
The visitors certainly missed having captain Kyle Beckerman – back in Utah serving his red-card suspension – on the pitch, but were able to overcome the US national team regular's absence thanks to strong contributions from Ned Grabavoy and Jonny Steele.
RSL were fortunate to avoid giving up a penalty kick of their own in the 11th minute as Tony Beltran appeared to catch more of Tauro's Rolando Botello than the ball, but Mexican referee Mauricio Morales kept his whistle silent.
Jason Kreis' side established itself better at the outset of the second half, controlling possession and creating more chances.
Luis GIl missed a golden opportunity to put RSL ahead in the 65th minute, blasting a layoff from Saborío straight at Tauro 'keeper Vladimir Villarreal. If that wasn't bad enough for the Claret-and-Cobalt, Saborío hauled down Eduardo Dasent on the follow-up, resulting in a caution that will force him to miss the team's CCL decider at home to Herediano.
Javier Morales had a chance in the box in the 71st minute, but again the official kept his whistle quiet as Morales was knocked down by a Tauro defender and the ball cleared.
Real pushed hard for a goal in the last 10 minutes as Kreis inserted Sebastián Velásquez – seeing his first action since a July 14 game against San Jose – for Beltran.
Tauro nearly ended the suspense, though. Following a cheeky backheel pass, Nick Rimando prevented an easy tap-in by getting his hand to a ball to his back post.
It wasn't until the 92nd minute that RSL's pressure yielded a goal. On the counter, Saborío took a square pass from Morales and pushed it past Villarreal, only for the young goalkeeper to haul the Costa Rican down, resulting in a clear-cut penalty call, which he took and converted himself to keep RSL's CCL dream alive.
RSL will have plenty of games down the stretch before returning to CCL play and return to MLS action on Saturday, when they host Portland. Though Tauro are mathematically eliminated from the CCL, they can make RSL's job slightly easier if they take points from Herediano in the two teams' encounter in Costa Rica on Sept. 25.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Javier Morales||His typical self in midfield, dictating the RSL attack and working hard to create chances|
|2||Álvaro Saborío||Worked tirelessly and selflessly, his hold-up play was solid and showed great composure to finish the late PK after being hauled down|
|3||Vladimir Villarreal||Could've been man of the match if not for his clumsy challenge to give away the PK. Showed fantastic shot-stopping ability to keep Tauro in it, even if handling was questionable.|