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Sandy • That first leg might have been ugly, but the second one was a thing of beauty for Real Salt Lake.
Alvaro Saborio scored first, Javier Morales scored twice, and veteran Andy Williams capped a virtuoso, turn-back-the-clock performance by scoring on the last play of the game to give RSL a dominating 4-1 victory over the Columbus Crew in front of 15,405 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium that made it the first Major League Soccer team to reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
"It feels great," Morales said. "We knew it was a big game for us."
RSL needed to win the second leg of the quarterfinal series, after playing to a frigid and sloppy scoreless tie in the first leg on the road last week.
But even without suspended defenders Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran - young Chris Schuler earned the surprise start in place of Borchers - the team ravaged the Crew almost start-to-finish, extending its home unbeaten streak to 34 games and leaving no doubt which team was best suited to advance.
"We jumped all over them," midfielder Will Johnson said.
Now, RSL will play either Saprissa of Costa Rica or Olimpia of Honduras in the semifinals starting later this month. Saprissa leads that quarterfinal series 1-0, with the second leg at Olimpia on Thursday night.
The Crew looked overmatched from the opening whistle, with RSL pressing hard for goals.
While Johnson nearly scored first with a rocket from distance that hit the right post, Saborio opened the scoring in the 23rd minute - he later knocked a header off the crossbar - before Morales scored the first of his two goals in the 36th.
The Crew equalized through Andres Mendoza in the 49th minute, before Morales scored again in the 77th minute and Williams curled home a long free kick just moments before the final whistle to cap an astounding effort that made him look far younger than his 33 years.
Williams assisted on the first two RSL goals with sublime passes, before scoring what he called "icing on the cake" at the end.
"For me, Andy was the best player on the field today," Morales said.
And to think, Jason Kreis was nervous.
The coach acknowledged his anxiety before the game, knowing how much effort his team had put into the Champions League and how it has struggled in the past when facing great expectations. He sensed that was part of the problem during the first leg in Columbus, as much as the freezing weather and icy field.
"I was nervous that the guys would come out again very nervous tonight," he said, "and obviously they didn't."
Able to play its style in front of a surprisingly big crowd considering the chilly weather, RSL dominated the midfield battle and controlled the game except for the first 15 minutes or so after halftime, sending the Crew home with their fifth straight loss in Utah and fourth straight loss at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It means a lot" to win, Johnson said. "It was a big goal of ours. It's another step in the right direction, a positive step for this club. It was a fantastic night."