Real Salt Lake, struggling for goals, went into their crunch CONCACAF Champions League match at Panama's Tauro FC on Tuesday night knowing a loss, even a draw, would likely kill off their dreams of advancing from the group stage.
Luckily for the Claret-and-Cobalt, the stellar play of RSL's back four and the return of defender Jámison Olave helped them post another shutout over Tauro in the team's nail-biting 1-0 win in CONCACAF Champions League play, with Álvaro Saborío finally breaking through with an injury-time winner from the penalty spot.
The sight of RSL's first-choice defenders on the field together was indeed a rare one. Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert have manned the outside back spots for most the season, and Nat Borchers was his normal steady self in the middle, but Real's chance of a shutout and a win greatly increased with the return of Olave – the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year who had been out injured since late July – to the lineup.
"It was good," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando of having Olave back. "He hasn't played 90 for a while. We've seen him working hard trying to get back to form. This was a tough game to come into, but I thought he fared well. Anytime you post a zero, there really are no complaints."
Having a healthy Olave was critical to the team's success. His overall speed and athleticism allowed the team to take more chances going forward, knowing he'd be back to cover for any mistakes.
"We knew it was going to be like that if we weren't going to get a goal in the first half, we were going to chase the game and chase that goal," said Rimando. "That's what happens. It gets spread out like that, and you want to send your players forward, and at the same time you want to make sure you're covered at the back.
"We kind of let that one go away with letting it be covered at the back. We were left sometimes two-v-six, but we need a goal and we wanted to take our chances. In the end, it paid off."
Olave was able to help maintain the shutout, but he still has some room to get back to the impeccable form that has earned him so many plaudits over the past few years.
"Olave is an extremely important players for us," said coach Jason Kreis following the game. "I think he was one of the players out there that looked the most fatigued in my eyes, which is typical. It was his first game back, his first time to play 90 minutes in I think over two month, so it is going to take some time to build his soccer fitness where he can be effective and 100 percent for 90 minutes."
Still, his performance at the back was good enough to keep Real's hope of advancing to the knockout stage of the tournament alive.
"For me, it's fairly simple, we'll watch the next match Herediano vs. Tauro very intently to see what the result is," Kreis said. "But I'm expecting that Herediano will win at home and then we'll need to beat Herediano by two goals, and that's not going to be an easy task at all.
"As we've seen lately, we're struggling to score goals, struggling to create effective attacks, and that is exactly what we are going to need if we are going to advance."