SANDY — Just like the Champions League final 18 months ago, Real Salt Lake was in the ideal spot Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
With Costa Rican club Herediano in town for the final group game of Champions League play, all RSL needed was a 1-0 victory to advance to next February's quarterfinals. Just like in that Monterrey game last season, RSL failed to make the most of the opportunity in front of a sellout crowd on a chilly Tuesday night.
Behind some great goalkeeping in the first half and then some textbook time-wasting in the second half, Herediano battled Real Salt Lake to a 0-0 draw a result that was good enough for the Central Americans to win the three-team group.
RSL had plenty of chances to bag the winner throughout the night, outshooting Herediano 18-6. Ultimately it lacked the finishing quality in front of goal, and certainly missed leading scorer Alvaro Saborio who was suspended because of yellow-card accumulation.
The draw was good enough for Herediano to win the group with a 3-0-1 record, while RSL finished second in the group with a 2-1-1 record.
Real Salt Lake had numerous chances to take the lead in the first half as it dominated play and outshot Herediano 12-3.
Espindola had the best opportunity just six minutes into the match as he dribbled around the keeper, but his off-balance shot at the open net glanced off the top of the crossbar. Espindola finished the half with four shots.
Herediano keeper Leonel Moreira almost single-handedly kept the clean sheet. He punched away a Nat Borchers header in the 28th minute and then did extremely well in the 42nd minute to smother a close-range shot from Will Johnson.
Real Salt Lake dodged a major bullet in the 57th minute when Herediano striker Yendrick Ruiz cracked a shot off the left post, a goal that would've forced RSL to win 3-1 to advance.
RSL inserted Jonny Steele, Kenny Mansally and Sebastian Valasquez in the second half to spark the attack, but to no avail as the visitors hung on for the clean sheet.
RSL has hoping to join MLS clubs Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston in the Champions League quarterfinals next February.
Coach Jason Kreis' team returns to action this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium for the MLS regular season finale against Vancouver.