Real Salt Lake was just good enough to continue its CONCACAF bid Tuesday. Salt Lake will now host Herediano on Oct 23 to decide whether the side will advance.
Barring a multi-goal win from Herediano next week against Tauro FC, a simple victory will likely be enough for Salt Lake to reach its second ever knock-out stage in this competition.
The stakes make this the single most important match of the regular season.
Its result will likely determine whether this core of players stays together or is broken up in the off-season. That will also determine whether Salt Lake is a contender or a rebuilding team next season.
But the news wasn’t all good Tuesday night.
Alvaro Saborio left the field with an apparent shoulder injury right after scoring the game winner. While his status moving forward is uncertain, the yellow card he received earlier in the match will certainly leave him out of the Herediano match as he serves a suspension.
This means Salt Lake will be without a target forward in the most important match of the season. This could be a big problem, though Fabian Espindola and Paulo Jr will have a month to learn to play together before this all-important contest.
The Saborio injury means this will be an even more likely pairing in coming league matches as well. In general, shoulder injuries rarely hold non-goalkeepers out long so Saborio will likely be fine for the playoff run, but the suspension is an issue that can’t just heal.
Fortunately, Paulo has looked better of late and has even shown the propensity to play in a support role, dribbling and passing to set up open chances. As a result, he can fill at least a portion of Saborio’s role and minimize the loss for at least a few matches.
It seems unlikely that Saborio will start against Portland, which should be our first taste of the new and improved Espindola and Paulo pairing.