SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- An early goal and strong defending were all that Club Sport Herediano needed to capture its CONCACAF Champions League opener against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday night.
Herediano midfielder Elias Aguilar punched the Costa Rican champions into the lead in the 14th minute, capitalizing on several minutes of high-pressure by the home side, and the 1-0 result would stand until the final whistle on Herediano's home pitch.
Aguilar took advantage of a slip from RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman, using the space created by Beckerman's fall to rip a low, 18-yard shot inside the far post from the left side.
Salt Lake had multiple opportunities to level the scoreline in the first half, the best of which was Fabian Espindola's 15-yard shot underneath the Herediano goalkeeper, but the shot slid barely an inch wide of the far post and out of play.
Real continued to pressure in the second half, but its hopes of equalizing the match all-but-evaporated in the 58th minute when central defender Nat Borchers was sent off after a challenge near midfield.
Just minutes later, RSL also lost Borchers' central defense partner Jamison Olave to injury, forcing Real boss Jason Kreis to burn two of his three allotted substitutes to reset the Salt Lake defense.
Despite going down a man for the final half-hour, Real didn't allow many opportunities and managed a few opportunistic chances of if its own.
"This was definitely a tough one," Borchers said via radio on Tuesday night. "It was a pretty harsh call."
RSL now has a lot of work to do in Group 2, likely needing an absolute minimum of seven points from its three remaining group stage matches to win the group and advance to the eight-team knockout stage.
"In the first half, they came at us with a lot of energy," Borchers said, "but I thought we weathered that and responded well in the second half."
The Claret-and-Cobalt will look to bounce back in CCL play on Aug. 21, when the club will host Panamanian champions Tauro FC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL will return to Major League Soccer action on Saturday, briefly returning to Utah tomorrow before a short trip east to face rival Colorado for the third and final time this season.