Herrera brightens 2-1 RSL loss to Atlas with long-range golazo

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SANDY β€” Aaron Herrera had one of the few bright spots in a 2-1 Real Salt Lake loss to Mexican club Atlas Thursday at America First Field.

The homegrown defender had one of the better goals in RSL history when he received the ball behind midfield and launched a shot that barely found the back of the goal before the keeper could backpedal to stop it.

"I saw (the keeper) off his line for pretty much the whole first half," Herrera said of his ambitious attempt. "I saw him pretty far out, and I was hoping they swung it around ... then luckily it just happened exactly how I was picturing it, and then I just took the chance."

"Players make plays, and tonight Aaron made a fantastic play," head coach Pablo Mastroeni said. "I was screaming from the sidelines: 'Play forward. Don't go back!' And then he launched the ball. I think to myself, 'Who's he playing it to?' But he played it forward to the most dangerous area, which is in front of the goal. So, fantastic awareness."

The inter-league friendly between MLS and Liga MX was played as part of the Leagues Cup Showcase ahead of the real tournament next year.

RSL had several changes to its lineup with six players away on international duty. Backup goalkeeper Tomas Gomez got the first start of his MLS career, and recent transfer addition Danny Musovski got his first start for RSL.

Bode Hidalgo, 20, nearly scored the opener for RSL in the eighth minute off a cross from Jasper Loffelsend, but the header was saved by the keeper.

The first goal didn't have to wait much longer as Herrera woke up the late-night crowd in the 17th minute with his shot from beyond midfield that sailed right over the keeper and into the goal to make it 1-0.

I have to admit I was initially confused by the 70-yard bomb when it left Herrera's foot, but then I saw what he saw: the keeper was well off of his line and wasn't able to get back in time before the long shot hit the back of the net. It was an impressive sight to behold β€” not many could even hit the back of the net from midfield, let alone 20 yards past it.

"Not sure I've actually seen a longer-range goal by a non-goalkeeper," MLS writer Matthew Doyle tweeted.

Mastroeni said Herrera tried the same shot earlier in the week in training, but the shot went wide of the goal on that occasion.

Hidalgo nearly had an assist to put RSL up 2-0 just 10 minutes later, but Pablo Ruiz's shot strayed just wide of the goal. Atlas got a header on frame in the 33rd minute, but Gomez was up to the task and leaped to his left and caught the ball to avoid any harm.

The script flipped in the 36th minute when Justin Meram was shown a red card for a high challenge on an Atlas player. Gomez was able to parry away the shot on frame from the resulting free kick to keep the 10-man RSL ahead as the first half wound down.

Atlas got one last chance on a corner kick in the 41st minute, and Edgar Zaldivar capitalized off a Gomez deflection to head home the equalizer, putting the two teams level 1-1 at the break.

Axel Kei, 14, started the second half, along with usual starting center backs Justen Glad and Marcelo Silva, as RSL looked to take control of the deadlocked match.

Former Real Monarchs teammates Hidalgo and Kei nearly combined for a go-ahead goal less than two minutes into the second half, but Kei was unable to get the shot on frame.

"I thought they were great. I thought every single one of them stepped in and did a fantastic job," Mastroeni said of the young players. "Axel (Kei) was running the channels, again, down a man, (which is) not easy to do, and carried a heavy load defensively. I thought Bode (Hidalgo) was one of the highlights tonight. I thought he did some tremendous work on both sides of the ball."

Gomez got his fourth and fifth saves in quick succession around the 50-minute mark when Atlas started to pressure the under-manned home team.

Another RSL debut came in the 62nd minute when recent Monarchs signee Gennaro Nigro entered the pitch for ironman Andrew Brody, who has played every match for RSL this season.

Second chances continued to be the Achilles' heel for RSL in the second half, with an Atlas shot deflecting off the far post, only to be easily won by Lucas Rodriguez and sent into the top of the net for a 2-1 lead in the 71st minute.

The Claret and Cobalt have a weeklong break before returning to MLS action with the penultimate game of the regular season on Oct. 1, where they visit the Los Angeles Galaxy.

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Caleb Turner covers Real Salt Lake as the team's beat writer for KSL.com, in addition to his role where he oversees the sports team's social media accounts.


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