Real Salt Lake celebrated their return to the CONCACAF Champions League in fine fashion – if not by the skin of their teeth – thanks to some jaw-dropping saves from the one and only Nick Rimando and an early goal from Joao Plata.
It gave RSL a well-fought 1-0 victory over CSD Municipal in Guatemala City on Tuesday night and a great start in Group G.
It only took two minutes for the visitors, fielding a first-choice lineup despite the game coming between two weekend league fixutres, to find the back of the net.
RSL defender Tony Beltran earned a free kick out wide for a Javier Morales delivery into the mixer. It was headed toward the top of the box by a Municipal defender, and Plata was able to chest down the deflected ball for a shot on the half volley, slipping it into the net just out of reach of goalkeeper Paulo Motta.
RSL were able to hold on to the lead, however, thanks to some brilliant goalkeeping by Rimando.
His first stellar effort came right before the break when Municipal earned a free kick 23 yards from goal in the 42nd minute. Former MLS MVP Carlos “El Pescadito” Ruiz stepped up to take it, lacing a dipping shot toward the back post, but a leaping Rimando was able to get just enough of a touch on it to push the strike into the crossbar and over.
After Real Salt Lake survived what appeared to be an obvious penalty-kick call in their own penalty area on a Phillips handball that went uncalled, Rimando again showcased his superior goalkeeping skills toward the end of the match.
It was Ruiz again, in the 78th minute, receiving the ball about 10 yards away from goal with a wide-open chance at the equalizer. Rimando flew across the goalmouth, however, and was able to smother the chance to preserve the lead.
Rimando finished the game with three saves and many other solid plays to help his team earn the full three points and first place atop Group G.
RSL will now return to league play for a road match Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Their next Champions League match will take place Sept. 15 in El Salvador against Santa Tecla.