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Columbus, Ohio • It was freezing cold, on an icy field, in the first game of the season after only a month of preparation.
Everybody knew it was going to be sloppy.
Throw in two red cards that left Real Salt Lake playing with just nine men for almost the last half-hour of its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against the Columbus Crew on Tuesday night, and it's not hard to understand why a scoreless draw however drab it might have been to witness was hardly seen as a devastating result in the visiting locker room.
"A zero is fine," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said.
That's because although RSL wasn't able to take advantage of a Crew lineup seemingly weakened by injuries, offseason turnover and its own red card, it still simply needs to beat the Crew in the return leg of the two-game series at Rio Tinto Stadium next Tuesday in order to become the first Major League Soccer team to reach the tournament semifinals.
"This is halftime," defender Robbie Russell said. "We're ready for the second half."
Should be, anyway.
Not only is RSL riding a 33-game home unbeaten streak, but it has won all three meetings with the Crew at Rio Tinto Stadium by a combined 8-1 margin. The big challenge, though, will be extending those streaks without defenders Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran, who will be suspended after being ejected from the first leg with red cards.
"Now our depth will be tested a little bit," coach Jason Kreis said.
That's something the Crew are dealing with, after a massive roster remodel during the offseason and a recent run of injuries.
They used two rookies in the starting lineup, along with third-string goalkeeper Ray Burse and defender Josh Gardner, who just signed with the team Monday. Five of their starters were making their team debuts, and stalwart defender Chad Marshall did not play because of a reported head injury.
But even on a frigid night with temperatures in the 20s and strips of snow still on the field after a storm swept through the previous night only a few hundred fans dotted the stands at Crew Stadium, though the attendance was announced as 4,665 the Crew took the fight to RSL from the opening whistle.
In fact, the Crew could rue its missed chances throughout the game, having wasted a number of fleet counterattacks and promising set pieces.
Rimando was in fine form, though, making four saves to help RSL preserve the clean sheet even though it managed not a single shot on goal.
"More than anything, it was the conditions," Kreis said, though the players insisted it wasn't so bad. "It's just difficult. It was an ugly game to watch, wasn't it? And when that happens, you don't possess the ball well enough.
"You don't possess it well enough to create chances, and the quality in the attacking third is still lacking."
Forward Emilio Renteria was the Crew player who was shown a straight red card along with Borchers for an altercation in the 72nd minute.
Borchers said Renteria elbowed him in the throat to start it Renteria denied that by which time RSL already was a man down after Beltran was sent off with two yellow cards. That left RSL with nine men against the Crew's 10 for the final 28 minutes.
"I'm happy the boys fought hard and pulled it out," Borchers said. "This is a great result for us and now we have a huge, huge game coming up" next week.
The draw extended RSL's winless streak to four games in all competitions, following its draw with Colorado to end the last MLS regular-season, and its draw and loss against FC Dallas in the playoffs.
But neither coach expected a lot more, given the situation.
"Knowing that we are only a month into preseason," Crew coach Robert Warzycha said, "I think that was a good game."
R IN SHORT • Real Salt Lake survives two red cards to salvage a 0-0 draw with the Columbus Crew.
KEY STAT • Temperature was 25 degrees at kickoff, with the wind chill at 18 degrees.
KEY MOMENT • RSL's Tony Beltran is ejected with his second yellow card in the 53rd minute, changing the complexion of the game.
Online: Borchers critical of red card
O RSL defender Nat Borchers and the Crew's Emilio Renteria were ejected with straight red cards following an altercation in the 73rd minute, and Borchers had strong words for his opponent afterward.