Jeff Chiu, ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE: Real Salt Lake's Will Johnson against the San Jose Earthquakes in an MLS soccer game in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, July 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
HEREDIA, Costa Rica — Real Salt Lake was in action Tuesday night in Central America, making its highly anticipated return to the CONCACAF Champions League.
It was the first time that the Claret and Cobalt fielded their first choice team, having logged just 59 minutes together in 2012.
It wasn't a picture perfect start for RSL, who conceded the only goal of the game in the 13th minute when Elias Aguilar slighted a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Nick Rimando to put Herediano up 1-0.
Yendrick Ruiz played a beautiful back heel to Aguilar near the top of the box, where Aguilar was able to beat RSL captain Kyle Beckerman for the game's only goal.
Fabian Espindola nearly equalized in the 30th minute, beating Herediano keeper Leonel Moreira with a shot that rolled just inches from the left post.
"I thought it was a little bit of a lackluster beginning for us," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "We couldn't get a hold of the ball and couldn't get any really tempo on the game. Lacked a little bit of energy, and sometimes these things happen when you have to travel so far for a game."
Despite trailing at the half, RSL were able to get off five shots and were also the aggressors in the final 15 minutes before halftime.
That momentum carried over into the second half, but was short lived after the RSL backline was demolished when Nat Borchers was shown a red card for a late challenge in the 58th minute.
"I took a bad touch, went in hard on the tackle, and maybe in another place or another time that's a yellow card if anything," said Borchers. "I think it's really harsh to get sent off for that."
Just two minutes later, defender Jamison Olave had to be helped off the field with an apparent leg injury. He was replaced by Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
When asked about Olave's injury, Kreis was still uncertain about exactly what went wrong with the Colombian defender.
"We're not quite sure yet. It's way too early to tell," the RSL coach said. "He was icing the back of his knee, so I don't know if that's where his hamstring is connecting back there, or if it's actually a knee problem, so we will definitely be mindful about that in the next 24 hours."
Kreis was content to let his team hobble out of Costa Rica with a one-goal loss, which seemed to be confirmed when Espindola was replaced by Abdoulie Mansally in the 67th minute.
"Actually I'm okay with this," said Kreis. "To suffer a really harsh decision with the red card, and have to play a man down for the remaining 30 plus minutes, you have to feel OK with walking out of there down a goal basically in what's going to turn into a home-and-away series, if we can manage to take care of our business against Tauro — which we will hope to."
Although Herediano mustered just one shot in the second half, their one-man advantage was visible with the simple possession they were able to maintain. Waiting to make that clean pass, while controlling possession and the flow of the game was ultimately the end of the night for RSL.
With the new changes to the CONCACAF Champions League tournament, all the focus has been on winning the group to advance.
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Tuesday night was just a setback that the Claret and Cobalt — the 2011 runner-up — and the visitors played 55 minutes with the same intensity that shook the soccer world during their last run at the title.
RSL finished with nine shots and will be looking to come out with no less than a point when it hosts Tauro FC on Aug. 21 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
NOTEBOOK: It seemed only fitting for captain Beckerman to be issued a yellow card, given his history of accumulating them in Champions League. RSL striker Alvaro Saborio was also shown yellow, and saw no love from his home country.