SANDY — Real Salt Lake's bid for continental glory came to an end Wednesday night.
Despite a dream scenario of only needing a draw at home — and with it a rare opportunity to win a trophy at home — the task proved to be too much to ask against a very good Monterrey team.
The Rayados scored late in the first half, and then survived a Real Salt Lake onslaught in the second half to hold on for the 1-0 victory in front of a passionate home crowd of 20,378 in the CONCACAF Champions League finale.
The goal helped Monterrey claim the title 3-2 on aggregate, and earn a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December.
It was a devastating loss for Real Salt Lake, which hadn't lost at home since May of 2009, and only needed a low-scoring tie on Wednesday to win the title.
"Difficult to take. A lot of disappointment. Pretty bummed out right now. One goal is the difference," said RSL defender Chris Wingert.
For coach Jason Kreis, the loss was similar to a couple of playoff losses at Rio Tinto Stadium in the past few years.
"It brings back memories of the New York game back in '08, and brought back memories of the last 10 minutes in Dallas last year," said Kreis.
Real Salt Lake outshot Monterrey 16-8, but it wasn't good enough like in those New York and Dallas playoff ousters.
Monterrey's goal came in first-half stoppage time, but it was a deserved goal after the Mexican club dominated the latter portion of the half.
It was a disappointed way for RSL to head into the locker room after a bright start to the game.
In typical fashion at home, Real Salt Lake came out attacking early and created several great scoring opportunities. Fabian Espindola, in particular, gave Monterrey trouble, and he was unlucky not to score in the ninth minute after a defender tripped up in the box. His shot from 12 yards out, however, rolled just a few feet wide of the far post.
Real Salt Lake continued to enjoy the better of the play until about the 30th minute, but it failed to capitalize on those chances.
"It wasn't quite our best night in the attacking third and in and around the penalty box. We need someone to make a special play and it just didn't come off for us," said Kreis.
After a shaky start for Monterrey, not entirely surprising with a passionate crowd behind the home team, the visitors eventually started to settle down and take over the game. It dominated the final 15 minutes of the half pinning RSL back deep in its own half.
Monterrey was finally rewarded in the first half stoppage time when Humberto Suazo knocked in a rebounded shot from Sergio Santana that was originally saved by Nick Rimando.
"I really felt like the movement in the midfield during that spell wasn't good enough. It may just be the cautious mentality you can't avoid in these two-leg series," said Kreis, whose team only gave up one shot on goal.
All week leading up to the finale RSL worked on denying passing lanes in the midfield and between its outside backs and center backs, but the defense broke down in several areas in the sequence leading up to the goal.
"I've been trying to remind the guys multiple times when you're playing a team as talented as Monterrey if you take one play off you can get punished," said Kreis.
With the lead, Monterrey was content to defend with numbers in the second half and hope for a counter attack. Real Salt Lake gladly attacked in waves.
Despite coming agonizingly close to bagging the equalizer on several occasions in the final 45 minutes, Monterrey's defense was there clean things up every time.
In stoppage time, Javier Morales had a toe poke in traffic sail just feet wide of the post after Monterrey keeper Jonathan Orozco failed to punch away a cross.
Dubbed the biggest match in MLS history entering the night, Real Salt Lake's players and coaches were still stunned as they accepted the silver medals in the post-game ceremony at midfield.
With a league match this Saturday at Portland, Kreis openly admitted that bouncing back so quickly is going to be very difficult.
"From my point of view, we'll see what kind of group we are now. It's a really easy task to talk about how good everyone is and how happy we are and all those sorts of things when things are going our way. Now to have this major disappointment, we'll see how we respond," said Kreis.
RSL is 4-0 in league play with eight goals scored and only one surrendered.
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