MONTERREY, Mexico (Wednesday, February 24, 2016) - Real Salt Lake kicked off its 2016 campaign with a difficult 0-2 loss at Estadio Universitario Wednesday night against reigning Mexican champion Tigres UANL in the clubs' 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal Leg One. The decisive second leg now moves to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy next Wednesday, March 2, RSL needing a 2-0 win to force extra time in the series or a 3-goal victory in any game that sees Tigres score. Kickoff at what is expected to be a full-capacity "RioT" is at 8:00 p.m. MT, with fewer than 1,500 tickets remaining.
A scoreless first half at "El Volcan" - one punctuated by yet another Nick Rimando penalty-kick save for RSL - gave way to a pair of set-piece Tigres goals in the final 25 minutes to determine the two-goal margin for "Los Felinos," the regional giant seeking its fourth tourney final in the most recent 12 months.
RSL entered the knockout stage following a 34-day preseason that saw the club split time in Oceanside, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz., travelling to face the Liga MX power more than seven weeks into its league season. Despite the varied junctures for each club, RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar fielded five players who saw significant time in the club's 2010-11 run to the CONCACAF Final, as Rimando, DF Tony Beltran, DF Jamison Olave, MF Kyle Beckerman and MF Javier Morales have "unfinished business" as motivation.
That veteran quintet was joined by FW Yura Movsisyan - making his first appearance for the Claret-and-Cobalt since MLS Cup 2009, a victory which launched RSL onto its maiden CCL voyage - and Nigerian-born Sunday Stephen "Sunny" Obayan, the European veteran making his club debut. DF Aaron Maund, DF Demar Phillips, FW Juan Manuel Martinez and FW Joao Plata rounded out the XI.
A nervy RSL start saw the teams share possession in the first half-hour, with both star strikers - Movsisyan for RSL and French international Andre-Pierre Gignac for Tigres - missing key chances. As Tigres pressed on, Gignac missed chances in the third, seventh and 29th minutes that seemed uncharacteristic for a player regarded as one of the finest in CONCACAF. RSL saw close chances in the sixth, 23rd and 41st minutes from Movsisyan and "Burrito" Martinez that it would like back, the first half nearly destined for a 0-0 deadlock.
Just prior the halftime whistle, however, RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman saw a headed attempt in the box glance off his arm, the Cuban referee pointing to the spot. Gignac stepped to the spot and failed to hit it cleanly, Rimando diving to his left to save yet another penalty kick, cementing his reputation as the "Wall of the Wasatch" as opponents have converted just 26 of 43 attempts in league play against the U.S. international during his nine RSL seasons.
Early in the second half, it was Tigres netminder Nahuel Guzman's turn to break opposing hearts, as Movsisyan's 48th-minute shot - driven hard and low from 15 yards out - was tipped outside the far post by a diving Guzman to keep the home side level. Rimando and Olave kept Gignac at bay in the 50th and 53rd minutes before a long-range Beckerman blast in the 56th was parried over bar by Guzman.
The dam broke in th 67th-minute, as Tigres centerback Rivas rose high over Olave to nod down a Rafael Sobis free kick, the ball beating Rimando and nestling over the line to give Tigres a 1-0 lead. That Rivas goal was the first conceded by Rimando in the continental competition since July 2012 at Herediano (Costa Rica), a span of 593 minutes.
In the 86th minutes, Tigres doubled its lead and seized control of the 180-minute quarterfinal series, as winger Jurgen Damm poked home a ball that the RSL defense could not clear following a corner kick.
The team which emerges from next Wednesday's series-decider will face the D.C. United / Queretaro winner in the resultant semifinal series, the first leg of which will kick off March 15-17 at the home of either Tigres or RSL.
TIGRES UANL 2 : 0 REAL SALT LAKE
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2016
ESTADIO UNIVERSITARIO - MONTERREY, MEXICO
Goals by Period 1 2 F
Tigres UANL 0 2 2
Real Salt Lake 0 0 0
TIG: Jose Arturo Rivas (Rafael Sobis) 67'
TIG: Jurgen Damm 86'
RSL: Jamison Olave 13'
TIG: Jorge Torres Nilo 37'
TIG: Rafael Sobis 88'
TIG: Jesus Duenas 94+'
Tigres UANL (4-4-2): Nahuel Guzman; Isreael Jimenez, Juninho, Jose Arturo Rivas, Jorge Torres Nilo; Jesus Duenas, Guido Pizarro, Jurgen Damm, Damian Alvarez; Rafael Sobis, Andre-Pierre Gignac
Real Salt Lake (4-2-3-1): Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Aaron Maund, Demar Phillips; Kyle Beckerman, Sunday Stephen Obayan (Jordan Allen 81'); Juan Manuel Martinez, Javier Morales, Joao Plata; Yura Movsisyan (Olmes Garcia 72')