Here are the lineups for tonight's match-up between Real Salt Lake (3-1-1, 10pts, t-1st Group A) and Cruz Azul (3-1-1, 10 pts, t-1st Group A):
Bench: Fabian Espindola, Robbie Findley, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, Jamison Olave, Robbie Russell, Tim Melia-GK
Coach: Jason Kreis
Starters: Joel Huiqui, Julio Cesar Dominguez, Alejandro Castro, Javier Quino, Horacio Cervantes, Gerardo Torrado (Capt), Christian Gimenez, Cesar Villaluz, Adrian Cortes, javier Orozco, Yosgart Gutierrez-GK
Bench: Fausto Pinto, Alejandro Vela, Nestor Araujo, Rogelio Chavez, Diego De La Cruz, Luis Alanis, Jose de Jesus Corona-GK
Coach: Enrique Meza
The Defending MLS Cup Champions kick off tonight by hosting CONCACAF Group A co-leader Cruz Azul at Rio Tinto Stadium, with both teams already having clinched spots for February's quarterfinal stage...Cruz Azul is coming off a dominating 3-0 win over Santos in Mexican Primera Division action on Saturday, while RSL defeated FC Dallas 2-0 that same evening. RSL wins the group with a win tonight, to include home field advantage (2nd leg of Quarterfinals at home) - while Cruz Azul wins the group with a win or draw.
If you don't remember the teams met back on August 25 in a rain-soaked affair, one that saw four (4) ties and four (4) lead changes in Mexico City, with the home Cruz Azul side eventually stormed back to take a 3-1 lead, but Los Cementeros scored four (4) goals. With RSL's Will Johnson briefly knotting the game at 4-4. Then Cruz Azul scored in dramatic fashion in the final minutes to pull out the victory.
The starting lineup out here for RSL tonight looks like a brand new team. We have three regulars starting tonight in Nat Borchers, Andy Williams and Will Johnson playing on the backline out of his normal position as a midfielder. I'm really looking forward to watching Paulo Jr play tonight. Every time he has been on the pitch, it seems like something special has happened. Like Denz stated to me in the Pressbox a few minutes ago, it looks like some of the youngsters are getting their chance tonight to show Coach Kreis that they want to be protected when draft time arises.
Let's get onto the match!
At '15 mark...
The place is really rocking tonight. Seems electric in here. Also, seems like a larger crowd then Saturday night's game against FC Dallas. Nice stop by Gil to not give up the center pass to the middle of the box. Cruz Azul just had a great opportunity to get deeper into the box, but came up a little short and offsides. There seems to be an enormous contingent of Azul fans in the stands tonight. RSL's Campos had a breakaway called back by the lead official for some reason. Cruz Azul keeps penetrating but cannot seem to break RSL's backline. The backline for RSL is playing strong tonight and they are getting pressed heavily by the aggression of Cruz Azul. Great play by Will Johnson keeps Azul from gaining an opportunity in the box. Both sides are playing very well in the first 15 minutes. I do believe Azul is more of the aggressor though. RSL is having a hard penetrating Azul's backline.
At '30 mark...
Azul's long shot on goal went wide. Campos fouled an Azul player and Azul is receiving a set piece at 30 meters out that Reynish stops with no trouble. Not much action so far in this portion of the match. Just a lot of back and forth play. Warner receives a Yellow Card at '22 mark. Seems like the Azul player tried to jump over Warner and fell on his back. Didn't seem like a foul at all to me but as hard as the Azul player hit the pitch, you knew Warner was going to get carded. A shot by Aquino goes wide right at '26 mark. Shot by Castro falls into the hands of Reynish. Azul is really passing the ball well in the middle of the field. A corner kick by Azul bangs into the side of the net. Nice save by Alexandre at the last second to keep the ball away from Reynish. Another corner kick by Azul goes nowhere.
more after the jump:
At '45 mark...
Nice move by Campos to get fouled in the box at '31 mark and receives a penalty kick. But an even nicer play by Azul's goalie to save the ball from going in and being down by one point. With Azul's counter-attack, an RSL defender brought down an Azul striker just outside of the box. Azul gets a set piece that leads to nothing. Alexandre receives a Yellow Card at '35 mark. Andy gets a set piece just inside of midfield and Azul breaks on the counter-attack only for the ball to be stopped by RSL. RSL is on the counterattack and a pretty move by Paulo Jr. gives Warner a shot on goal...only to go high. Corner kick for RSL that goes nowhere. Campos gets great right foot on the ball but misses the shot wide at '41 mark. Fantastic shot by Azul that Reynish cannot reach that barely goes wide right. We got lucky on that one. Wonderful take away by Williams and pass to Warner which he in turns sends the ball beautifully to Paulo, Jr. which Paulo Jr. works his magic again for an amazing one on one with Azul's GK to make it 1-0 RSL at '43 mark! Beautiful dribbling and spin move by Warner to get an opportunity to score in the box, but it seemed like Warner ran out of gas at the most inopportune time. Get shot by Williams that just went a little high. That is half in Sandy with RSL leading 1-0!
*Correction: Paulo Jr's., goal was assisted by Collen Warner and Rauwshan McKenzie.
Cruz Azul came out in the beginning as hard and fast as I have seen anyone come here to Rio Tinto to play. RSL's backline held up throughout Azul's continuous pressure in the first 25 minutes of the game. A great move by Campos in the box and the only thing the Azul defender could do was pull him down. I really thought that we were going to go up by one (1) point on the Penalty Kick, but a beautiful save by Gutierrez and Azul kept it tied. But, what I have been waiting for the entire first half happens...Paulo Jr. goes electric on Azul and makes a fantastic shot in the box against Gutierrez and scores at '43 mark to make the score 1-0 at half.
I am quite impressed with RSL's youngsters tonight. They are playing very well and I think Campos is playing very good. He is making opportunities out there on the pitch. With RSL up by one point and doing well to command the pitch, I'm wondering what Coach Kreis will do at the beginning of the second half. I see Grabavoy warming up on the pitch right now. Maybe Kreis is gonna be substituting to get Ned in for some playing time.
At '60 mark...
Just as I expected Grabavoy came in for Gil. A head-to-head collision between Borchers and Gimenez leaves Borchers on the sidelines for a minute. Cruz Azul comes back out on the attack again in the beginning of the 2nd half like they started in the first half. Campos places a ball high and above the goal at '49 mark. Nice ball movement for RSL outside of the box. Nice passing between Campos and Paulo, Jr. that results in an offside on RSL. A great shot by Alexandre just barely goes wide left. Beautiful one on one between Campos and Gutierrez with Campos narrowly missing a golden opportunity to score by flicking the ball wide right. Corner kick by Azul that goes nowhere. At '56 mark, Cruz Azul substitutes Cortes for Pinto. A wonderful save in the box by Reynish keeps the ball from going in the back of the net. RSL seems like they are taking over the game and beating Azul on every ball. Azul wastes an opportunity to equalize the score by centering the ball out of the box. The attendance was just announced over the PA system, the total attendance for tonight's match is 20, 463. Azul just barely misses scoring a goal by a diving Reynish. Williams takes a shot on goal that is stopped by Gutierrez at '60 mark.
At '75 mark...
Azul has a cornerkick that just goes wide left off of an Azul header. Azul receives a set piece that leads to nothing. Nice center by Villaluz that Aquino just barely mnisses over the crossbar. At '63 minute Azul substitutes Aquino for Vela. Right after the substitution, Huiqui receives a Yellow Card for arguing with the official. At '66 minute, Findley comes in for Campos. Just as Findley comes he makes a center pass to Paulo Jr, which brings the score to 2-0 at '67 mark. And the doors fall off of Azul with Williams sending a beautiful pass to Warner for the third goal of the night. Azul fights back and makes a beautiful shot in the top right side of the goal at '71 mark to bring the score back to 3-1. That is only the 16th goal given up at home in a little more than 18 months and 32 games. We need Kreis to get someone in there to calm down our players because it seems like they are just lackadasically running around out there. We need to maintain our composure and keep fighting to the end; eventhough, we are up by two goals.
At '90 mark...
Azul substitutes Chavez for Julio Cesar Dominguez at '76 mark. Next Kreis makes a brilliant move and substitutes Morales for Paulo Jr. We need Paulo for this weekend's match in Colorado since Espindola will miss the game due to being Yellow Carded. And it gives Morales to calm down the troops and start controlling the ball in the later part of the game. Great shot on goal by Azul but misses barely. Corner kick by Azul that goes no where. The crowd tonight is the largest to ever watch an RSL match at Rio Tinto Stadium. Azul has been on the attack in the later portion of the game. It seems like panic time for Azul because they want to win this game. Beautiful save by Reynish from a wonderful shot by Orozco. We do get lucky sometimes here in Sandy, Utah. Azul is pressing hard in the final minutes. They realize that this might be there last opportunity. Nice job of RSL playing keep away with Azul. A corner kick for RSL leads to nothing. I cannot believe that we basically have shut down Cruz Azul. At '90+ mark, Gimenez receives a Yellow Card for arguing with the official. CRuz Azul seems to be getting upset and are now playing out of control. Well, that is game...Cruz Azul comes in here expecting a win and goes home empty and in 2nd place in Group A. Fantastic game by RSL to upend Cruz Azul 3-1.
Well, what can I say...we played a very good game tonight. Especially with playing most our 2nd-side players. There were times that I thought Cruz Azul had an opportunity to capitalize on a goal or two but our backline held strong and didn't crumble. Paulo, Jr. played "lights out" tonight with scoring his 2nd goal of the match. And let's not forget about Robbie Findley coming in and within seconds centering the ball to Paulo for his 2nd goal. Kreis coached a helluva a game too. Very smart substituting after Azul placed a ball into the back of the net closing the score to only two goals. He brought in Javi to try and calm down RSL's young squad and control the field. Mostly, I believe he needed to get Paulo some rest because he will play a vital role against Colorado this Saturday night. If you don't remember Espindola will not be able to contribute in the game due to his second card in the Dallas game.
All in all, RSL's play was strong, the weather was great and the crowd was electric. So, this is what the atmosphere feels like when you have the largest crowd in the history of Rio Tinto Stadium. I wish we could do this with every game.
It is hard to digest that we now have a 32-game unbeaten home streak since May 2009. Oh, and by the way, we have only given up 16 goals in that stretch! Wow...just plain wow!