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By Brian Dunseth
After the 2-2 draw at Estadio Tecnologico the week before, the expectations of Salt Lake City and Major League Soccer fans were stratospheric. Monterrey was walking into a fortress, facing a Real Salt Lake team that hadn't lost at home in nearly two years and sitting on a 34-game unbeaten streak - 37 if you count friendlies.
Adding to burden on "Los Rayados" was they hadn't won in seven matches, including a 1-1 result against Puebla on Saturday. It had fallen to eighth overall in the Clausura and would require a win at Chivas this week to guarantee a playoff berth.
With news media constantly noting its winless skid since March 19, Monterrey took a private charter Monday to the altitude and snow of the Wasatch Front, with even more hurdles of being without starters Aldo De Nigris and Jesus Zavala due to yellow card accumulation and captain Luis Perez because of injury.
Conversely, Real Salt Lake, head coach Jason Kreis only had one true starting XI concern - the absence of captain Kyle Beckerman due to a dubious yellow card shown in the first leg. That meant Ned Grabavoy would replace Beckerman in the defensive midfield, not a calamity considering Real Salt Lake was unbeaten in 10 home games - including seven victories -- when Beckerman wasn't in the starting lineup.
Everything seemed stacked in Salt Lake's favor, and against Monterrey.
The first half started exactly as one would expect, with the exception that the RSL faithful were out in force never seen before. The club had made tickets to the match available to season-ticket holders first - and except for those allocated to Monterrey, the match was a sell out before tickets even were made available to the general public.
It led to a uniquely partisan Real Salt Lake/MLS crowd not usually seen when a United States club plays a titled Mexican side.
With the early chances and possession leaning toward the home side, Monterrey found its footing around the 30th minute, despite the altitude and the fact the team was playing its eighth match in 24 days.
And it would be the man who concerned Jason Kreis' coaching staff most, Chilean international and two- time Mexican league scoring leader Humberto Suazo, who caused the damage. He finished a quick sequence of one-touch passing with Sergio Santana with a right, then a left foot to score six second into first-half injury time.
After all of Salt Lake's preaching about doing the little things better and limiting opportunities in the final third, Suazo made Real Salt Lake pay dearly with a composed finish that gave Monterrey the 1-0 lead and ultimately the 3-2 aggregate advantage.
Kreis bemoaned the lack of simple possession and forced direct play by his men in that final 15 minutes in the first half, and replaced Robbie Russell at the start of the second with Tony Beltran at right back. The focus on the last 45 minutes of this two-leg affair would see the home side attacking relentlessly, only to see Monterrey repel admirably time and time again.
Kreis' last two substitutions would be offensive, bringing on Arturo Alvarez and Paulo Jr. while Victor Manuel Vucetich countered with defensive reinforcements Duilio Davino and Severo Meza.
And despite doing everything within their power to beat Jonathan Orozco, Real Salt Lake would fall at home for the first time since May 2009, giving the crown to Monterrey.
And it's not only the title that Monterrey and manager Victor Manuel Vucetich can boast about, it's their claim to be the first club to go undefeated in the entire tournament.
What's even more incredible is that Monterrey also could have claimed the honor and still not win the CONCACAF Champions League trophy -- if the match had ended 0-0 or 1-1.
It's an incredible little game we play.