Although his return was on pace with the original timetable, it’s unlikely most would have expected Real Salt Lake fullback Tony Beltran to come up so big in a full 90-minute performance.
RSL may have dropped the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinal at Seattle on Wednesday, 2-0, but thanks to some great play from Beltran and his series-saving goal line block, they held on for the 3-2 aggregate win to book a spot in the Western Conference Championship.
Beltran's career highlight-reel play happened in the 36th minute. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando had come out of his goal to the left to punch away a free kick into the box, and Beltran instinctively slid to his right to cover the exposed goal. As he did that, Sounders defender Jeff Parke one-timed the rebound back toward the net.
It looked as though Beltran was too far over and that Parke’s shot was in, but Beltran laid out and got his head on the effort to deny Seattle of their first.
“That goal-line save – it happened really fast,” Beltran explained on ESPN700 Sports Radio in Salt Lake after the match. “When Nick came out, just in case there was a half clearance, I made sure I got in a position where if somebody hit it on target, I could make a play. And the guy who struck it struck it true, and I was able to parry it over the goal.”
Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid was much more succinct in his description of the acrobatic play: "It was huge," he said.
Beltran’s interference kept Seattle scoreless in the first half. They would eventually score two in the second half, but came up a goal short of forcing overtime.
While that play certainly played a huge part in RSL series-winning effort, Beltran was also solid throughout, shutting down the right side of the Seattle attack. His only blemish on the night was a soft yellow card picked up in the second half that led to a Sounders penalty kick and their opening goal of the match.
Still, his saving effort overshadowed the goal that kick-started a Seattle resurgence and gave them hope.
“There’s no doubt about [the importance of the play],” RSL head coach Jason Kreis told ESPN700 of Beltran’s save. “You really need guys to make plays in these situations, and that was a critical one.”
Teammate Nat Borchers, who watched the game in street clothes due to a quadriceps injury – a similar injury that also kept fellow center back Jámison Olave sidelined for the match – applauded Beltran’s effort on the play.
“That’s as athletic a play as you’ll ever see,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s what Tony brings out there and it made a big difference.”
Beltran and his teammates will now await the result of Thursday’s matchup between the LA Galaxy and New York (11 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN2; live chat on MLSsoccer.com) in order to find out who they’ll face in the Western Conference Championship in a few days time.