The Associated Press
Javier Morales scored an 89th-minute equalizer to give Real Salt Lake a 2-2 draw at Monterrey in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final Wednesday.
Aldo De Nigris opened the scoring for Monterrey in the 18th minute, before Nat Borchers headed an equalizer in the 35th for Salt Lake, which is bidding to become the first U.S. club to win the continental title since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2000.
Suazo put Monterrey ahead again from the penalty spot on the hour, but Morales leveled with a diagonal drive just before the final whistle.
The draw made MLS teams 0-21-4 in competitive matches in Mexico.
But the two away goals put Salt Lake in a positive position ahead of the return leg in Utah next Wednesday.
Salt Lake would be crowned champions with a home win or by holding Monterrey to a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. Monterrey must win or draw 3-3 (or by a higher total) to take the title. A 2-2 draw would lead to extra time and the possibility of penalties.
Victory would also make Salt Lake the first American team to play in the Club World Cup, a December tournament played against the other continental champions including the European Champions League winner and South America’s Copa Libertadores holder.
Monterrey enjoyed the best of the early chances with Humberto Suazo’s shot from the edge of the area forcing Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando into a flying save to tip the ball over the bar in the ninth minute.
The early pressure paid off when Monterrey’s full back Sergio Perez joined the attack on the right and forced the ball across goal for De Nigris to finish.
De Nigris and captain Luis Perez were forced off with injuries in the 22nd minute, but Monterrey kept pushing and Suazo brought another diving save out of Rimando with a low curling shot in the 25th.
Despite the sluggish start, Salt Lake began to move the ball with greater precision and the equalizer came from a high ball into the box—a traditional weak spot of Mexican teams often exploited by more athletic American sides.
Will Johnson lifted a cross toward the penalty spot and Nat Borchers beat two defenders to the ball to head past goalie Jonathan Orozco.
Monterrey regrouped after the break and controlled possession in the Salt Lake half. Neri Cardozo almost put the home side in front after breaking onto an Osvaldo Martinez pass at the 60-minute mark, but Jamison Olave diverted behind.
Two minutes later, Cardozo’s run and cross down the left was handled by a Salt Lake defender and Suazo sent the penalty into the bottom corner.
Nonetheless, Monterrey’s inconsistent form since winning the Mexican league title in December resurfaced in the final stages.
Salt Lake’s Argentine striker Morales collected the ball on the edge of the box and cut inside Jose Basanta before unleashing a shot across Orozco that nestled in the corner.