SANDY, Utah—Real Salt Lake were welcomed into the CONCACAF Champions League fraternity in a big, if not somewhat bizarre, way on Wednesday night.
RSL's first-ever Champions League match in franchise history, a 2-1 defeat of Panama side Árabe Unido, started out as one may have expected.
Their potent midfield saw most of the ball, and though there was a swirling wind in the stadium that had an impact on some of the long balls, they still managed to get the better of possession early on and throughout the night.
However, a goal scored by Árabe Unido against the run of play changed all of that, sending the game off on a tangent from which it would never recover.
Shortly after the goal, Los Árabes captain Nahil Carroll was sent off for a studs-up tackle. At that point, the Panamanian visitors took every opportunity to take time off the clock, from slow restarts to excessive amounts of time embellishing fouls and injuries. Clearly, the goal was to watch the minutes tick away.
“I think tonight was a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with our game,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said in his postgame address to the media. “We’ve got to come up with a solution in our game where we are not having players laying on the ground for three minutes, having them go off the field, and then come right back on. There must be a simple solution.”
Midfielder Javier Morales seemed offended by some of the tactics, too.
“I’ve played professional soccer for ten years," Morales said. "I’ve never played a game like today. I hope we don’t see it again.”
However, Kreis was also concerned about how his own team approached the match.
“We were an average team – an average RSL, I can tell you that," Kreis said. "I think we thought it was going to be a little easier than it was.”
Kreis did, though see a redeeming quality from his 11 guys.
“We went down a goal tonight and we win, which is the first time we’ve done that all season," he said. "I think that’s important.”
That may be an important lesson for his team to learn. It’s one thing to go down against Arabe Unido at home, but it may be another to venture into Mexico City next week and do the same against a Cruz Azul team reeling from its 2-1 loss to Toronto FC on Tuesday.