When I saw the weather conditions in Monterrey Wednesday night, my initial thought was, “oh, boy.”
Having lived in Hidalgo, Texas, which is a two-hour drive from Monterrey, Mexico, I cannot stress how much the weather affects people.
It is hot and humid, and you can’t prepare for it short of living in it.
I was happy to see Real Salt Lake make to the 15-minute mark without allowing a goal. Monterrey had opportunities, but Rayados didn’t score thanks to RSL keeper Nick Rimando.
Just as I thought RSL was passed the worst, it gave up a goal to Aldo de Nigris after a mad scramble in the box. de Nigris later earned a yellow card due to celebration, which knocks him out of next week's match.
Following the yellow card, Monterrey's coach Victor Vucetich took out key contributors de Nigris and Luis Perez, which left my room full of guests, Twitterverse, Monterrey fans, members of the Mexican press and I scratching our heads.
Were they injured? Was it tactical? We didn’t know why, but what knew it gave Real Salt Lake new life.
In the 24th minute, RSL had its first good opportunity when Fabian Espindola, who was the man of the match in the first half, headed through to Alvaro Saborio, but the Monterrey goalie made the save.
In the 35th minute, Will Johnson found Nat Borchers in the box, who headed the ball into the back of the net giving RSL a 1-1 lead and a precious road goal.
Late in the first half, Real Salt Lake got lucky when Humberto Suazo’s free kick looked to be handled by Johnson in the box. Most of the group watching the match agreed it should have been a penalty kick for Monterrey. The two teams went into the locker room tied at 1-1.
Because Monterrey dominated the next 40 minutes of play, it can possibly be credited to two things: Monterrey's coach lit a fire under his players knowing a draw would not look or the weather was affecting RSL.
RSL sat back and allowed Monterrey chance after chance, but Rimando was huge between the pipes, while Borchers and Jamison Olave cleaned out every ball going through the box.
Tension built in the second half and no one expected RSL to come out of that style of play unscathed. In the 62nd minute, Olave unfortunately handled a ball and Monterrey was given a penalty kick on a questionable call. Up to that point Olave had played unbelievably well.
Suazo nailed the penalty and the Rayados led 2-1.
RSL's defensive third primarily played the remainder of the second half.
In the 72nd minute, Saborio had a chance to equalize, but he ran into the keeper. As a result there was a minor scrum in the net and a Rayado player grabbed Saborio's neck. Inexplicably, only a yellow card was issued, but it looked like RSL had some fight in it after playing so passively in the second half.
RSL’s “team-is-the-star” mentality showed itself in its defense. On one particular Monterrey break away, if it was not for Johnson's relentless hustle, Suazo would have had a one-on-one opportunity on Rimando.
When RSL’s Arturo Alvarez entered the contest the game changed. His scoring chance came in the 88th minute when he pressured the Monterrey defender and controlled the ball on the sideline. He turned and caught Morales with a square ball and he scored. The way Morales controlled his body enough allowing the defender to commit gave him a better opportunity to find a better angle and hit the shot.
Another late RSL goal helped fans to forget the play of the second half.
I spoke with some neighbors, who were watching their first soccer game, and they mentioned it was fun. I had to remind them it was just a draw and yes, draws can be fun.
The loss of Kyle Beckerman for the next leg of the final was the only real downer of the night after he was given a questionable yellow card for a 50-50 challenge.
Host and contributor to the RSL show. Loyal RSL supporter. Follow me @RSLshow and @fuegote. http://www.therslshow.com