Home CONCACAF Magical strike from Morales has RSL in great shape in CONCACAF Champions League

Magical strike from Morales has RSL in great shape in CONCACAF Champions League

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It was a moment of brilliance. We can speak of David Ferreira, Chris Wondolowski and, yes, even Landon Donovan. But, is there a player in MLS who can carry a team quite like Javier Morales?

The Argentine midfielder conjured a goal in the 89th minute, allowing Real Salt Lake to leave Mexico with a 2-2 draw against Monterrey in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.

Yes, Real Salt Lake has the deepest lineup in the league. It’s not a major media market. And Morales isn’t always comfortable speaking to English-language media. And he does take the occasional card. So, Morales doesn’t get the headlines he deserves.

But he deserves massive praise after Wednesday’s evening’s draw-that-felt-like-a-win.

Subsitute Arturo Alvarez chased down a ball in the corner and then sent a bouncing ball to Morales. The Argentine settled the ball and faked a shot, then pulled the ball around a Monterrey defender, found some space, then unleashed a drive that found the corner of the goal and gave keeper Jonathan Orozco no chance.

Morales didn’t panic. In fact, the calm manner in which he settled the ball and made the move around the defender showed his nerves of steel.

Canadian soccer fans may recall that last season, RSL came into Toronto needing just a draw to advance out of the CCL group stage. Morales had been injured and hadn’t played in weeks. RSL trailed TFC 1-0 at halftime and were out of sorts. Without any real practice time, Morales told coach Jason Kreis he would be good to go, came out in the second half and changed the game, scoring the equalizer that eliminated TFC and sent RSL on the road that would eventually take it to Monterrey.?

But, really, even before the Morales goal, Real Salt Lake would have left Mexico somewhat satisfied as 2-1 losers in the first leg. With a road goal in their pockets and only one goal to overturn on their way home to Rio Tinto — a stadium where they haven’t tasted defeat since 2009 — the scenario was decent.

It was clear Monterrey’s players and fans knew that 2-1 wasn’t good enough. Through the last 20 minutes of the game, led by Chilean striker Humberto Suazo — who scored the penalty which gave the Mexican side the lead — Monterrey came at RSL in waves. Late in the game, RSL coach Jason Kreis removed striker Alvaro Saborio for Alvarez, striker for midfielder.It was a move that came up aces on the goal, but surely had to be seen as being motivated by the need to keep the score at 2-1.

Nick Rimando made a series of saves, and the RSL penalty area was filled with players making sprawling blocks or just trying to get a leg in to disrupt the passes and shots. It was desperate stuff. But, as Monterrey kept coming forward in waves, it made them too vulnerable to a counterattack. And, after showing no attacking thrust for almost 30 minutes, Morales came up with what might be the most significant strike in the history of his club.

Suazo, who represented Chile at the 2010 World Cup and scored 10 times in the CONMEBOL qualifying stages for South Africa, could have opened the scoring in the eighth minute, but Rimando tipped a wicked laser beam of a shot from just outside the box over the bar.

But, in the 17th, Monterrey took the lead. Sergio Perez attempted to play a ball through some tight gaps in the RSL penalty area. Kyle Beckerman, storming back from the midfield to help the backline, slid to block the pass — even though it looked as if it was going to come to the feet of defender Jamison Olave. The deflection from Beckerman eventually took the ball to Aldo de Nigris, who fired into an open goal.

De Nigris was immediately subbed after the goal and had his leg wrapped on the bench.

But RSL came back and dominated huge portions of the first half. Saborio had a great chance to score. A deft header from Fabian Espindola set Saborio free into the Monterrey penalty area, but Orozco came out and smothered the shot.

In the 32nd, RSL got its equalizer. Canadian Will Johnson made a perfect cross into the Monterrey penalty area, and defender Nat Borchers, who came up in the attack on a corner taken just seconds before, nodded home.

But, the second half was pretty much one-way traffic. But, despite all the chances, all the possession, Monterrey will rue only scoring once in the half, after Suazo sent Rimando the wrong way on a penalty kick after Olave was judged to have handled in the penalty area.

Beckerman will miss the second leg in Sandy, Utah after receiving a yellow card.

Monterrey’s Jesus Eduardo Zavala and Saborio were both yellow-carded in the second half after an ugly mix-up. Saborio left his leg in as he went into goalkeeper Orozco, chasing a ball he didn’t have any chance to latch onto. Monterrey’s players confronted Saborio, and Zavala put his hand around the Costa Rican Designated Player’s throat and shoved him to the ground. The official showed lenience in handing each a yellow, not red, even though Zavala will still miss the second leg because of card accumulation.

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