RSL Set for Massive CCL Date at Saprissa

Real Salt Lake has already made history as the first MLS team to reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Now, with a 2-0 first-leg victory under their belt, they head to the fearsome Estadio Saprissa, aka The Monster’s Cave, to try take the next step tonight (10:00 EST, Fox Soccer Channel).

All they have to do is avoid losing to Costa Rican hosts Deportivo Saprissa by three goals or more. They can even lose by two goals and advance, as long as they score an away goal.

It sounds manageable, but it won’t be easy: Estadio Saprissa has long been a place where the dreams of U.S.-based teams go to die. It’s an extremely intimidating venue, with the stands running right up to the field, and you can bet it will be rocking at full tilt tonight.

RSL coach Jason Kreis and goalkeeper Nick Rimando have both played there with with the U.S. national team. Here’s what they told The Salt Lake Tribune about the experience:

“Rimando recalled having coins thrown at him [during] a World Cup qualifier, and Kreis remembered “rocks being thrown at buses and bags of urine being thrown on the field” while playing there a couple of times with the U.S. national team.”

“Those sorts of things I think have been since cleaned up a little bit,” Kreis said, “so I don’t know if we’ll have to face that. But the crowd is right on top of you, and the stadium presents the feeling of being in a dangerous place.”

Sapriss and its fans are well aware of this element. A section of the stands, in fact, sits right above the visitors’ locker room, and fans see it as their duty to rock up and down to create the impression that the changing-room ceiling will cave in at any moment.

“Outside teams feel the pressure,” Saprissa defender Óscar Duarte told MLS Soccer.com.

“We hope the stadium will explode [with fan support],” Saprissa assistant coach Randall Low said. “The gringo teams, when they’ve been here, the support of the fans weighs on them and it’s a negative for them.”

But RSL midfielder Will Johnson was confident his team will not be affected by the environment: “We have a group of guys who are excited about the challenge instead of intimidated. With our experience and diversity in the squad I think the guys are relishing the opportunity to play in that stadium.”

All they need is a close result to make more MLS history with a berth in the CCL final, a two-leg championship scheduled for April 19 and 26.

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CCL: Real Salt Lake Clinches Quarterfinal Berth

You have to like the way Real Salt Lake is conducting business this season.

Coach Jason Kreis rested a number of starters for this past weekend’s MLS tilt with Colorado because he wanted to have his first-choice lineup ready to go for the CONCACAF Champions League game against Toronto FC last night.

A win or a tie against Toronto and RSL was through to the CCL quarters.

As Kreis said:

“We don’t want to go into the last match at Cruz Azul needing a result. We’re going to put all of our cards on the table for [the Toronto CCL game]. We feel like the that’s the one that we have to get a result in, and wrap up this Champions League stuff so that we can then turn our attention back to the Supporters’ Shield and the playoffs.”

That second-string lineup mustered a tie against Colorado over the weekend—gaining ground in MLS on the Galaxy, which lost—and last night, the regulars rallied for a 1-1 draw in Toronto to secure a berth in the CCL quarters.

What was it the A-Team guy used to say? “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Real Salt Lake is getting it done in two competitions this season, no mean feat with an MLS budget and roster depth. They also had some severe travel SNAFUs in their odyssey from Utah to Toronto, via Atlanta.

Yet Kreis had them ready to play. If he keeps this up, he’s a shoo-in for Coach of the Year.

Here are the highlights:

The tie eliminated Toronto, which has fired its coach and GM this season and is on very thin ice re. the MLS postseason.

But hey, that goal by former U.S. youth international Jacob Peterson—after a perfect 60-yard outlet toss by goalkeeper Jon Conway—was pretty nice.

Jason Kreis Completes Historic MLS Cup-Top Chef Double

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kreis's feat is unprecedented.

Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis capped an incredible month last night by winning the sixth season of Bravo’s reality show Top Chef, narrowly defeating his brother Bryan in the last elimination challenge of the hour-long season finale.

Coming less than three weeks after Kreis coached Real Salt Lake to a penalty-shootout win over the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS Cup 2009, the victory seals a unique and apparently unprecedented double for the coach/chef. According to Seymour Siwoff, venerable head of the Elias Sports Bureau, there’s no record of such a coaching/culinary double in the annals of sport or haute cuisine. “I went all the way back to the 1905 Chicago Cubs of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, and found nothing comparable. Of course, Brown got his nickname from mishaps in the kitchen, so perhaps he wasn’t the best candidate.”

Kreis overcame the early loss of star midfielder Javier Morales in MLS Cup, replacing him with Clint Mathis, who filled in capably. Similarly, in the Top Chef finale, he prevailed despite a reconstituted-mushroom side dish that one judge called “gimmicky.”

Siwoff surveyed the entire history of U.S. and international soccer, including in France, and found nothing that ranks with Kreis’s achievement. He stated that U.S. baseball history comes closest to providing a similar accomplishment. “In addition to Brown’s ill-fated culinary career,” Siwoff says, “there was Chief Bender, Hall of Fame pitcher with the A’s, who, not surprisingly, was adept with a Bloody Mary and won several local mixology competitions. And the A’s Hall of Fame manager  Connie Mack made a fine pancake, but nothing on the level of this national double.”

Kreis said he plans to put the $125,000 prize money toward replacing Real Salt Lake striker Yura Movsisyan, who departed for Danish club Randers after the title game.

Note: post may not be true.