The magical season of Real Salt Lake continued Saturday with a thrilling 2-2 tie against second-seeded Chivas USA and a 3-2 aggregate score victory. Salt Lake will take on either the top-seeded Houston Dynamo or fourth-seeded New York Red Bulls, who play the second leg of their matchup on Sunday.
After going down a goal in the first half, RSL battled back to tie and then take the lead against Chivas USA before hanging on to a tie that saw them through to the conference final.
Chivas opened the scoring in the 30th minute when Javier Morales fouled Ante Razov on the right side of the 18-yard box, setting up a penalty kick which Sacha Kljestan blasted into the upper right corner to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Morales made up for conceding the penalty when his cross was headed in by Dema Kovalenko in the 39th minute to level the match at 1-1. “I’m really disappointed that we gave up such a soft goal,” Chivas coach Preki said. “In the second half we had to make changes and go forward and in doing this we leave gaps in the back and then we give away another very soft goal, the softest goal you’ll ever see.”
Morales gave Salt Lake a 2-1 lead in the 77th minute, blasting a shot from the left side of the penalty area into the far right corner of the net. RSL had to withstand a Chivas USA onslaught during the final minutes of the match. Needing two goals to force overtime, Chivas had to attack and they got one back when Justin Braun evened the score six minutes later. The home team supplied heavy pressure over the game’s final couple minutes, but Chivas was unable to get one more goal to extend the match as the RSL defense and goalkeeper Nick Rimando were able to keep Chicas at bay for the rest of the game.
We were under a lot of pressure,” Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said. “I think (goalkeeper) Nick Rimando was a complete monster out there tonight. I think the defense showed tonight how much they’ve improved. Early in the season I don’t think they would have held like they did tonight.”
“I feel unlucky not to have scored in the last few minutes,” Chivas coach Preki said. “Overall, I’m happy with the effort my guys put forward and I wish Salt Lake the best of luck.”
The result also showed RSL’s ability to rise to the challenge of playing on the road, where the team struggled all season long.
“We knew we had the ability to get to where we are today,” said Rimando. “Where we used to not finish games and give up bad goals, now we’re not doing that. We also fought together and that was the main thing.”