SANDY — The aptly named RioT (Rio Tinto Stadium) lived up to its name last night as more than 20,000 fans, most of whom were pro-Salt Lake, stood for the entire 90-minute match, while singing, chanting and trying to push RSL to the top of the CONCACAF region. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the much smaller Monterrey contingent were the fans celebrating after the final whistle, when Monterrey won the game 1-0 and the two-leg series 3-2 on aggregate.
For the past couple of days, and especially yesterday, the social media world was buzzing about the Real Salt Lake and Monterrey matchup. Many people around the country called this match the biggest in the history of Major League Soccer. Well wishes were sent via Twitter from fans and foes alike. Former U.S. Men’s team star @cobijones sent out a “Good Luck, RSL” tweet shortly before the match kicked off and MLS Commissioner @thesoccerdon tweeted: “Good luck, RSL! Tonight’s the night!” It seemed that most of the soccer community across the country was pulling for Real Salt Lake to continue its historical run.
Head coach Jason Kreis asked the sold-out crowd to arrive early, to help the atmosphere of the game and to cheer on the team. Fans began to arrive at the surrounding parking lots hours before the gates even opened at Rio Tinto Stadium, where they tailgated and sang with other fans. @BrianStraus, who writes for The Sporting News, described the atmosphere when he tweeted: “Judging on color and sound inside Rio Tinto, we could be in Buenos Aires or Istanbul. But then you look up, and the mountains give it away.”
For most of the first half, Salt Lake controlled the pace of play and had a few chances to take an early lead, but all of those chances were off-target or stopped by Monterrey defense. Things began to fall apart for the home team around the half-hour mark of the first half, as Monterrey began throwing numbers forward and possessing the ball very well, pressuring RSL for the final 15 minutes of the half. Finally, just before the halftime whistle, Monterrey scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, off the boot of Humberto Suazo, with @MLS_Insider tweeting: “#RSL Sauzo-ed. 1-0 to Monterrey.”
During halftime, some media members showed disapproval for RSL and RSL players, with Sports Illustrated writer @GrantWahl tweeting: “Floored by Saborio’s complete no-show so far.” But the goal just before halftime allowed Monterrey to change team tactics to preserve the lead, and many fans were unhappy with the time-wasting tactics. Fans booed the referees mercilessly as Monterrey players seemed to drop to the ground with the slightest of touches from RSL players. The man in the middle, Panamanian ref Moreno, tried to control the game by issuing yellow cards repeatedly to Monterrey players for the time-wasting, but it had no effect on the game, as time ticked slowly away on Real Salt Lake’s chances. The crowd was ready to explode if RSL players got the needed equalizer, but time was against them. @chigbee tweeted: “Can you get any closer and not win? Heartbreaker doesn’t begin to describe it for RSL and fans.”
Even though some were not happy (GolTV’s @PhilSchoen tweeted: “Gutsy effort, reasons to be proud, but 2 or 3 players were overwhelmed at this level. Saborio shouldn't start for a U10 team”). Most fans were more than happy even with the loss. @cleatsup10 said, “A trophy does not make a champion. Our TEAM is the STAR!” and @rslsoapbox sent this tweet: “Heartbreak at Rio Tinto as RSL fails to get a goal and loses 1-0. Next up: 30 more MLS matches. Lift your heads up and get ready for Saturday.”
It might be hard to find a silver lining in such a difficult loss like last night, but for Real Salt Lake fans, @RSLFRONT may have said it best with his tweet: “I'll never give up, I'll never give in, I'm Salt Lake until I die, it's all worth it in the end!” — and even in the loss, RSL and MLS have shown that they are improving and playing quality soccer. The team has probably even earned some new fans from its recent success, such as @Mitch_Harper who tweeted: “Props to RSL, though. I will admit never watched any soccer before. Enjoyed watching and looking forward to summer nights at Rio Tinto.” Many others probably feel the same way.
Landon Walters is a history and political science major currently studying at Salt Lake Community College and is an avid sports fan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org