SANDY — When it was finally over after a last-minute flurry of shots couldn't find the net, Real Salt Lake players sat stunned or lay in agony on the Rio Tinto field. After an eight-month quest to become the first American team to play in the FIFA Club World Cup, their hopes of playing in Japan later this year came to a dissapointing end Wednesday night.
Out near midfield, Ned Grabavoy sat with his hands on his knees as teammates tried to console him. Farther down toward the goal, Jamison Olave sat with his jersey over his head as Monterrey players patted him on the shoulder. Down at the other end, goalie Nick Rimando lay on his back with his hands over his face. Nat Borchers stood and applauded the loyal RSL fans in the east stands.
The RSL players weren't used to this losing stuff, since it hadn't happened on their home field in nearly two years and 37 games of MLS, CONCACAF Champions League and exhibition league play. The last RSL home loss was a regular-season defeat to Kansas City in May 2009.
And this one was way harder than any regular-season loss, after the huge buildup the game received all week since a 2-2 draw in Mexico last week put them on the verge of a championship.
The game was being called the biggest sporting event since the 2002 Olympics and media folks gushed about how Real Salt Lake was going to make American soccer history – if they won.
Instead, as the fireworks blasted from behind the north end of the stadium and "We are the Champions" blared from the loudspeakers, RSL players had to watch the trophy presentation they had fully expected to be part of.
"It wasn't easy," said defender Chris Wingert of having to watch Monterrey receive the CONCACAF Champions League Cup. "I certainly wanted to be respectful, but I didn't know we were going to have to stay out there and watch them get the cup. It's difficult to take . . . a lot of disappointment . . . I'm pretty bummed out right now."
Coach Jason Kreis talked about a 15-minute lull late in the first half that cost them the game. Some of the players talked about missed chances at the goal that could have made a difference.
"We had our chances at the beginning of the game and the last five minutes we missed some chances," said Javier Morales, hero of last week's game in Mexico. "But I don't think we played well today."
"We've been there so many times before where we kept pushing and our chances were there and the goal would come. But unfortunately tonight that wasn't case," said Tony Beltran, who replaced Robbie Russell in the second half. "All of us believed it was going to come, but unfortunately tonight it didn't."
Kreis praised the crowd, calling it "excellent," and the players felt the same way. They were just sad they couldn't bring home a victory to the sellout crowd.
"I feel disappointed we let everybody down," said Wingert. "Everybody was behind us and rooting for us. It felt like a different country, I hate to say that. They were awesome."
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