SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake are well on their way to the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds thanks to some firepower off the bench.
RSL have been riding high lately: They’ve clawed their way back into the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs discussion and got two positive results on the road in Champions League play. But it almost went sideways for the Utah club when they gave away a disastrous goal to Santa Tecla in the second half of Thursday night's CCL encounter at Rio Tinto Stadium.
In the 61st minute, Tecla played a ball forward on the break to Guillermo Herrera. The Tecla forward fought off RSL’s defense and nutmegged goalkeeper Jeff Attinella to steal a goal. It marked the end of RSL’s streak of 587 minutes without allowing a goal in Champions League play.
The Claret-and-Cobalt had dominated the match's first hour, but suddenly they were in danger of giving away three points at home.
“Sometimes you feel like you create so many chances and you are going to keep creating them, so when you don't finish, you are a bit OK because you think another one will come,” second-half substitute Kyle Beckerman said.
“The next thing you know, you're losing. I think we learned a little lesson tonight, which is good. You have got to finish your chances. If we could have scored early I think it would have been a lot easier on us tonight. I think that everybody showed a lot of character, staying calm and getting the comeback.”
Real came to life almost immediately and the comeback was on. Morales found Olmes Garcia and his headed goal leveled the score in the 73rd minute. Just four minutes later, Martinez showed his quality when he made a clever run in behind the defense. Morales found him and Martinez chipped Tecla’s goalkeeper to seal the 2-1 victory.
Even though Morales and Beckerman didn’t think they were going to play, when their numbers were called, they turned it on – and a little veteran savvy was the difference.
“Really, we didn't even think we were coming on,” Beckerman said. “It all just happened really quickly. I thought that we would maybe do some calisthenics and then call it a night. Next thing you know we were going on.
“We know what to do. We knew that we had to bring an impact to the game and we needed to get a win. That was the most important thing.”
The frenzied late comeback might not have been the ideal scenario for the hosts. Yet despite the close call, Cassar made the right moves to get the job done.
“I think the guys that were on the field at the beginning were playing with urgency and we were really close on several occasions,” Cassar said. “[The substitutions] came on with the right mentality, the same aggressive mentality that the guys had before. A little bit of extra quality and excellent passing and continued movement. But they continued what the guys had started from the first half.”