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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Real Salt Lake became the first American team to reach the CONCACAF Champions League finals, defeating Deportivo Saprissa 3-2 on aggregate despite a 2-1 victory by the Costa Rican side in the second leg Tuesday night.
Real Salt Lake, which won the opening leg 2-0 will face either Cruz Azul or Monterrey in the finals. Monterrey leads that series 2-1 heading into Wednesday's second leg at Estadio Azul in Mexico City.
The Mexican winner will host the first leg on April 20 with the second at Rio Tinto Stadium a week later.
"We did accomplish something, there's no doubt about it, but I think all of us feel that the real history is to be made in the next round," Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis said. "We got to the dance and now we'll see what we can do."
Just 48 seconds into the second half, Luis Diego Cordero sliced Saprissa's aggregate deficit in half and sent the near capacity home crowd of over 21,000 into hysteria with a long-distance left-footed blast for the game's first goal.
Real Salt Lake equalized, and took a commanding 3-1 aggregate lead, in the 61st minute when Jamison Olave fired in a first-time volley off a deflected corner kick. Nat Borchers initially headed Javier Morales' corner that deflected off Saprissa captain Victor Cordero. But Olave pounced and blasted the ball over Saprissa goalkeeper Victor Bolivar.
"Fortunately it was a goal that really calmed the team down," Olave said. "They had already scored the goal in the first minute (of the second half) and that really complicated the match.
Saprissa reclaimed the lead 2-1 on an 87th-minute penalty kick by Alonso Solis, who slipped a low shot just past goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez pointed to the spot after Allan Aleman was tripped by Ned Grabavoy inside the box.
Saprissa pushed numbers forward and attacked frantically, but never seriously threatened to get the two more goals needed to overcome Salt Lake's away-goal tiebreaker advantage.
The hosts had the first dangerous chance when Walter Centeno's free kick managed to get through traffic, forcing Rimando to punch the ball away with his left hand in the 24th minute.
Three minutes later, Kyle Beckerman was played in behind the Saprissa defense on a clever chip by Andy Williams, but the Real Salt Lake captain was denied by Bolivar, who made a stunning save on the shot from 10 meters.
In the 38th minute, Josue Martinez had a open shot from 16 meters, but the volley off a bounce sailed well over the net. Three minutes later, Jairo Arrieta knifed through a pair of Real Salt Lake defenders on the left edge of the penalty area, but his low shot was just wide of the far post.
The final scoring chance of the first half came to the Americans as former Saprissa star Alvaro Saborio latched onto a corner kick, but his downward header was saved by Bolivar, who dived to his right one minute before halftime.
Cordero briefly breathed life into the Monster's Cave crowd with his wonder strike seconds into the second half, but they'd be silenced for good by Olave's close-range volley that put Real Salt Lake in position to become the first U.S. team to win the CONCACAF club title since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2000.
"I'm really, really pleased obviously with this historical moment, but I would have liked to have advanced in a little bit more impressive fashion," Kreis said.