Here is Fox Soccer’s Christian Miles on tonight’s clash between Real Salt Lake and Monterrey in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final (10:00 EST, Fox Soccer Channel):
“This game is massive for MLS. It’s probably the biggest game that the league has ever seen, and winning this would literally put the league on the map. … Getting to the Club World Cup [which tonight’s winner will do] is the next step that MLS has to take to gain international legitimacy. People overseas don’t think that Americans take this sport seriously, and as a result don’t always take MLS as seriously as they should. Getting to Japan would be a massive step towards changing that.”
And here’s RSL general manager and former MLS keeper Garth Lagerway [via Daily Breeze]:
“If you’re going to talk about the long-term future of the league, you need people who are fans of soccer in the United States to pay attention to our league. … A lot of those people are going to deny, deny, deny, and say, ‘I’d rather get up on Saturday morning to watch the EPL, and American soccer sucks.’ I think we’re going to win over a whole bunch of fans who simply can’t ignore us if we’re able to win and achieve consistent success. … I think we have an event [here] [of the scale] to put the world on notice that American soccer has taken another step forward.”
For a team that’s only been in existence since 2005—and that operates under MLS’s strict salary cap—winning the 24-team CCL (as opposed to the eight-team CONCACAF Champions Cup, which DC and LA won, in 1998 and 2000, respectively) would be a significant accomplishment.
Monterrey, by contrast, was founded in 1945 and has a salary budget estimated at three to five times larger than Real Salt Lake’s $2.675 million.
Just getting to this point has been a feat of resource- and team-management. As Soccer America’s RidgeMahoney put it:
“As a team, RSL’s advancement to the brink of a regional club title is a study in smart tactics and intelligent deployment of talented personnel. As an organization, its management of limited resources to succeed against richer clubs may be an even greater accomplishment, and a challenge to its league foes.”
On to the game:
With two away goals in the first leg (a 2-2 draw), Real Salt Lake is in the driver’s seat. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw tonight would deliver the CCL title to the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Some other encouraging factors for the hosts:
• RSL has an impressive 37-match unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium.
• As of this writing, the temperature in Salt Lake (or nearby Sandy, home of Rio Tinto Stadium) is 36 degrees—almost 60 degrees cooler than it was in Monterrey last Wednesday. It’s expected to rise before kickoff, but the weather could put Monterrey out of their comfort zone. They’ll also have to contend with the altitude in Sandy (4,500 ft).
• Monterrey coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich provided some bulletin-board material for RSL, saying the following after the first leg [via MLSSoccer]:
“It was a real good game by us. We did enough to win the game. We gave the effort. We made the game. We also made a few errors. But nonetheless, it makes me feel good to know how Salt Lake plays…. They played the game they wanted. They dirtied the game a lot. But that’s normal. We know exactly what their movements are and what their characteristics are. With the way we played today, we’re confident of getting a good result over there [at Rio Tinto].”
On the downside for RSL, captain and holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman will sit this one out due to yellow-card accumulation (following a questionable booking in the first leg).
Look for Ned Grabavoy or Will Johnson to take Beckerman’s place in the middle (or, possibly, the rugged Jean Alexandre).
The team has coped without Beckerman in the past—and coped well, going 7-0-3—but it’s still a big blow.
(Monterrey have roster issues of their own—striker Aldo De Nigris and captain Luis Perez are both out injured. De Nigris is also suspended due to card accumulation, so he couldn’t play even if he were healthy. … But Chilean superstar Humberto Suazo and Argentine international Neri Cardozo will be present and accounted for.)
Lastly, we’d submit that given all the hype surrounding their accomplishments thus far, the great result in Monterrey, and the return to the comforts of their home stadium, Real Salt Lake have to guard against complacency.
They haven’t won anything yet.
They still have to do the business tonight, against a dangerous team that surely does not want to be a footnote in MLS history.