MONTERREY, Mexico — Jason Kreis said he desperately wanted to become the first MLS team to win in Mexico.
A tie never felt as good as it did on Wednesday night, though.
Having been thoroughly outplayed the entire second half, and with Monterrey closing in on a third goal, Javier Morales scored a stunning goal in the 89th minute to lift the visitors to an improbable 2-2 draw in front of a sold-out Estadio Tecnologico in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.
MLS teams are still 0-for-25 in Mexico, but that's just fine with Kreis.
"I think it's the best draw of my life, no doubt about it. I'm really, really proud of what the guys put into that, and I know it wasn't easy at all. It was difficult circumstances for us," said Kreis.
RSL now returns home for the second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium next Wednesday night. With its two road goals in Mexico, a victory, a 0-0 tie or a 1-1 tie will be good enough for Real Salt Lake to clinch the continental title in its home stadium.
Morales said there's nothing to celebrate yet.
"It's very good, but it means nothing 'cause we have to go home and we have to try and win the game," said Morales.
Until his late goal, it appeared Real Salt Lake would be coming home down 2-1 on aggregate.
He changed all that with a fantastic bit of individual skill after receiving a ball in the box from Arturo Alvarez. He thought about taking a quick shot, but with a defender closing quickly he cut it back on the right side of the penalty area and fired a driven shot just inside the far post.
"He takes that touch right, and I said 'goal.' He's done that so many times to us in training," said Nat Borchers.
What was a great finish was actually a nightmare start for RSL.
It took Monterrey just 18 minutes to breakdown RSL's defense with an easy goal, as Aldo De Nigris buried an open netter after a failed clearance in the box.
Conceding early wasn't necessarily a surprise.
In all but one of RSL's six Champions League road games, it conceded the first goal. To its credit, it battled back in those five games for a 1-2-2 record.
Five minutes after going down, RSL striker Alvaro Saborio missed a glorious opportunity in the box after a great build-up with Fabian Espindola. His point-blank shot from about 12 yards out was drilled right at keeper Jonathan Orozco.
The missed opportunity seemed to settle the players, and they were rewarded for their patience.
Real Salt Lake pulled a goal back in the 36th minute on a Borchers' backwards header in traffic. Borchers was in the box because of a corner kick, but Monterrey didn't clear the ball out of harm's way enough, and Will Johnson sent it back into a dangerous area, where Borchers was waiting.
"Really happy with the way we responded both times after going a goal down. Now we have our work cut out for us at home," said Borchers.
It was just the fourth home goal allowed by Monterrey in the Champions League.
The Rayados (striped ones) looked shaky the rest of the first half, but settled down and really dominated the second half.
In the 60th minute, Jamison Olave went from hero to goat in a matter of seconds.
First, he was fantastic making a lunging block on a shot by Neri Cardozo. The heroics were short-lived, though, as he whiffed on a clearance, with the ball popping up and hitting his arm. The El Salvadoran ref didn't hesitate pointing to the spot for a penalty.
Humberto Suazo, who was denied in the first half on a pair of acrobatic saves by Nick Rimando, confidently buried the penalty kick to put Monterrey back in front 2-1.
With the lead, and RSL noticeably tiring, Monterrey continued to throw bodies into the attack for a third goal. Kreis said at one point he saw both outside backs pushing forward.
RSL didn't handle things tactically as well as Kreis would've liked, and will address it for the second leg.
"There's one thing tactically that we're going to have to need to spend quite a bit of time on this week, so we're a bit more prepared and we won't have to look at so many attacks coming at us," said Kreis.
Borchers was pleased with how well the team did absorbing the pressure.35 comments on this story
"They just committed a lot of numbers to the attack. I thought we did brilliantly to fend them off. I thought guys were in good spots," he said.
Suazo had a golden opportunity to push the lead to 3-1 in the 85th minute with a one-on-one opportunity in the box, but his chipped shot over Rimando went about five feet to the right.
After the draw, just the fourth by an MLS team in Mexico, Kreis echoed the sentiment of Morales, saying nothing will come easy in the second leg.
"I would think they're going to come to us with an extremely aggressive mentality knowing they have to win," he said.