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Sandy • Nearly five years ago, they fell to their knees or collapsed onto their backs or simply walked around in a daze on the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium. The moment this franchise, fan base and league tasted was 90 minutes away.
Instead of rewriting history, Real Salt Lake watched as another team hoisted the CONCACAF Champions League trophy in its stadium.
Nearly five years later, RSL's dream of another deep run in the Champions League tournament ended in somewhat similar fashion: To a powerhouse Liga MX club from the same Mexican metropolis that left Sandy as the region's best club in April 2011 when Monterrey topped RSL.
For as long as the wait was for RSL's return to the Champions League knockout stage, the reality of the exit was sudden. Gone in a flash of two 90-minute outings against the best club in Mexico and possibly the entire region in Tigres UANL.
Following a 2-0 victory in the the first leg in Monterrey on Feb. 24, the defending Liga MX champions handled the onslaught of pressure RSL put on them, advancing to the Champions League semifinals in the 1-1 draw.
Tigres will meet Liga MX foe Queretaro FC in the next round after topping RSL 3-1 on aggregate.
"Disappointed with exiting the tournament," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "It's something we really wanted to push on and make it back to the finals, but really pleased with the efforts our players put forth."
Javier Morales, dealing with flu-like symptoms the last 48 hours, had the opportunity to get RSL to extra time in the 72nd minute, not to mention even in the series. A spectacular individual effort by Burrito Martinez resulted a foul, and in referee Jeffrey Solis pointing to the spot.
Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán ensured the sold-out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium would leave heartbroken. Guzmán read Morales' usual stutter-step run up to his penalty attempt and guessed correctly, making the stop and sucking the life out of the jam-packed crowd in Sandy.
"[Guzmán's] very good," Cassar said. "He's very long, and if he goes down earlier, it's in the goal. Listen, Javi's a professional. He's going to bounce back."
For the first 179 minutes of this series, RSL managed to keep Tigres star André-Pierre Gignac at bay. It wasn't until the first minute of stoppage time Wednesday that the French forward would have his say.
And it was the final one.
Gignac deked goalkeeper Nick Rimando and later Jamison Olave in the 90th minute before scoring the tying goal, sealing the Champions League series for Tigres.
Needing at least two goals to stay alive, a picture-perfect sequence put RSL up early. Joao Plata gave RSL a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute finishing off a clinical series of passing that started with Rimando. Once Rimando snagged a rolling ball in the box, he hit ball to Martinez, whose quick turn and flick to Yura Movsisyan gave the RSL striker time to pick out Plata.
Movsisyan struck a hard, but quick cross across the face of goal which Plata ran onto and hit with his left foot under the arm of Guzmán. RSL remained the aggressors threatening Tigres with more chances in the second half.
Another shot at evening the series came in the 55th minute when a chipped ball over the Tigres back line awkwardly rolled by Martinez and to the feet of Movsisyan. The left-footed shot at the near post ricocheted off the crossbar.
There were chances, but RSL's Champions League hopes are done. It's unclear now when they'll return.
"We can't just hang our heads about one chance here tonight," Rimando said of Morales' saved penalty. "A lot of pride went into tonight, that game, that effort. If we play like this, I think the season's going to be bright for us."