"Soccer can be a cruel sport," said Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis following his team's scoreless draw against Herediano, a result that put the side from Costa Rica through into the next round of CONCACAF Champions League and also ended RSL's CCL dreams. While Kreis' statement is undeniably true (just ask Celtic), Salt Lake weren't downed by fate or misfortune on Tuesday evening. No, the hosts truly only have themselves to blame for not earning all of the points.
RSL supporters and also North American soccer fans who were simply rooting for the Major League Soccer side to continue their CONCACAF journey took to Twitter immediately following the conclusion of last night's contest to criticize both the referee and Herediano. In their eyes, referee Elmer Bonilla didn't do enough to keep the action going during the waning moments of play, and Herediano were guilty of shameful time-wasting tactics that made for a nearly unwatchable 15-20 minutes of soccer.
Non-MLS CONCACAF sides have a reputation for doing whatever possible to waste time late in games whenever they are close to achieving a desired result. Herediano only needed a draw on Tuesday in order to advance, a draw they were about 15 minutes away from achieving before the theatrics began. Perhaps the biggest "you have to be kidding me" flop came in the final five minutes, when Herediano goalkeeper Leonel Moreira sprinted to the left portion of the penalty area to cover ground before he made his way back to the center of the box, handed out some instructions to his back line and then fell to the ground while grabbing the back of his leg without having been touched.
I, like every MLS fan I know, absolutely hate these antics. I find them disgraceful and also one big reason why CONCACAF Champions League matches often aren't for me. Complaining about CONCACAF clubs utilizing such cheap tricks to shorten a game is like getting mad about the sun rising: You know it's going to happen, and thus you have to plan accordingly. The truth about Tuesday evening's CCL clash is that Salt Lake could have avoided having to tolerate time wasting measures by finishing just one of several quality chances they had during the first half.
The biggest story of this contest, even more so than any perceived questionable calls made by the referee or the way Herediano closed out the match, was a complete lack of clinical finishing from the hosts. Arguably RSL's best chance to find the back of the net came in the sixth minute of play, when Fabian Espindola was played through past the Herediano back line and into the left side of the penalty area. Espindola coolly took a touch past Moreira, who had made a lunging attempt for the ball. With a defender sprinting back to cover, Espindola fired a strike that skimmed off the crossbar. While scoring in that scenario is admittedly not nearly as easy as one may think, a top class striker absolutely must bury that attempt ten times out of ten.
Salt Lake finished the match having hit eight shots on target, most of which were struck directly to Moreira. Despite having a home field advantage that included an announced crowd of over 20k and temperatures in the mid-to-low 40s, RSL couldn't find the necessary quality while in the final third. That, above anything else, is why their only remaining mantra of this fall is "MLS Cup or bust."
Herediano cannot be blamed for the way they approached this contest. This is not UFC or professional boxing, where the point is to entertain first and win second. The visitors routinely placing ten or even eleven guys behind the ball may have bored east coast viewers to sleep late Tuesday evening, but Herediano ultimately returned home with exactly what they wanted; a berth in the CCL quarterfinal stage.
- Sports & Recreation
- CONCACAF Champions League