For 90 minutes, Tauro FC keeper Vladimir Villareal turned away everything Real Salt Lake fired at him. All of that was wiped away with one clumsy challenge in stoppage time on Tuesday night.
Alvaro Saborio converted a 92nd-minute penalty kick after Villareal tripped him up in the box as RSL escaped with a 1-0 victory on a hot, humid night in Panama in CONCACAF Champions League group play.
"All in all, our quality wasn't good enough tonight, so I think we have to find ourselves very fortunate for Saborio at the end of the game that gets a penalty kick call," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Villareal got both hands on Saborio's penalty, but it still found the back of the net as Saborio improved to 12-for-12 all-time in PKs in an RSL uniform.
A tie would've been disastrous to RSL's chances of winning the three-team group and advancing to next February's CCL quarterfinals. Thanks to Saborio's dramatic penalty kick, though, the group's top spot will be up for grabs when RSL hosts Costa Rican club Herediano on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
A two-goal victory over Herediano would be enough to push Real Salt Lake onto the next round.
The win was RSL's first away from Rio Tinto Stadium since a 3-0 win at Chivas USA back on June 16.
"It feels good to go on the road and get a result," said RSL keeper Nick Rimando.
After a 2-0 victory at home against Tauro FC last month, Real Salt Lake was confident it could get a similar result in Panama — especially after traveling to Central America on Saturday to acclimate to the humid conditions.
Despite playing without suspended midfielder Kyle Beckerman, RSL enjoyed the better of the play throughout the match. Its quality in the final third, which has been a major problem the past two months, was again a struggle.
Despite a 57-43 edge in possession and 16 total shots, RSL failed to capitalize on the opportunities, as it took a penalty kick in stoppage time to keep its CCL hopes alive.
"For me, all night we're not finding the right numbers to get involved in the attacks, and that typically means we're not going to have very many successful ones," said Kreis.
"We got to figure out a way to get more numbers involved in our attack if we want to be effective in the attacking half of the field."
Coach Kreis' team came out with a patient attack on Tuesday, not wanting to get beat on the counter attack. After some clutch saves by Tauro's keeper kept the game scoreless, Real Salt Lake had no choice but to throw caution to the wind in the final 10 minutes.
In the 80th minute, Kreis took off defender Tony Beltran in favor of midfielder Sebastian Velasquez to push more bodies into the attack. Saborio was denied a great chance from the top of the box in the 82nd minute, and then Chris Wingert pushed a close-range header on a corner kick just wide in the 88th minute.
Tauro FC had two separate 5-on-2 counter-attack opportunities in the final five minutes, but it was denied both times by great desperate defending by Jamison Olave, who was making his first start in a month.
Unfortunately for RSL, PK hero Saborio will be suspended for the Herediano match next month after picking up a 65th yellow card on Tuesday — his second in CCL group play. Saborio will also be out this Saturday as RSL returns home to face Portland in Major League Soccer play as the striker picked up a shoulder injury on the foul that led to the penalty kick. He will be out 2-4 weeks.