OK, when you hear the starting lineup for Real Salt Lake and only 4 guys have more than 5 starts this year and you are playing a Cruz Azul team that you embarrassed in Mexico City (yes RSL was the better team despite the 5-4 loss), if you are like me you are hoping for a very slow paced and maybe a 0-0 or 1-1 draw if you are lucky. If you watched the first 15 minutes of the match, you probably got a sinking feeling in your stomach, but then RSL started playing better.
They started attacking the ball better, connecting passes better, and then Pablo Campos gets taken down in the box and the official points to the PK spot. Pablo wasn't giving up that ball no matter what, and when he missed the PK I heard myself start thinking that RSL might be in trouble, but just the opposite. That miss fired a number of guys up and RSL played really well the final 15 minutes of the half and it was a couple of great passes in the 43rd minute that found Paulo Jr. making a super run into the area and he finished perfectly and RSL was in front 1-0 with a very inexperienced lineup.
more after the jump:
When RSL came out in the second half they made just one change bringing on Neb Grabavoy for Luis Gil who had saw his first real action for RSL and looked good considering the circumstances. RSL was much more aggressive at the start of the second half and their passing was quick one or two touch passing that was simply impressive. RSL had a number of chances, they ended with 7 shots in the second half, but it wasn't until 66th minute sub Robbie Findley made a great run and got a ball from Tony Beltran that he fed to Paulo Jr, who again put it into the back of the net to give RSL the 2-0 lead in the match.
RSL wasn't done as rookie Collen Warner who had made some great offensive and defensive plays found himself one on one with the keeper after a simply impressive pass by Andy Williams and he put it in the back of the net to give RSL the 3-0 lead just 2 minutes after the second goal of the match. Cruz Azul wasn't going to go away that easily and we saw in Mexico City that they are a team that can score goals in a hurry, and they did just that as they answered back in 2 minutes to make it 3-1 in the 71st on an incredible shot by Cesar Villaluz. RSL went into a bit of a shell for a few minutes but that quickly changed when Javier Morales came on for Paulo Jr in the 77th minute and after catching up to the speed and pace of the match. The match was really open as Cruz Azul tried to pour it on the last few minutes but RSL was up to the task and with the help of some great plays on defense and incredible saves by Kyle Reynish, RSL held form and walked away with the 3-1 win in the match.
For a team playing in the CCL for the first time, for drawing a group with MLS Champions, the Mexican Champions, and the Canadian Champion, which many thought was the toughest group, and to play as well as RSL did in all their match both at home and away, to win the group and head into next years quarterfinals knowing we will be playing a second place team instead of a first place team. The expectations from RSL head coach are right, winning the group is nice, but the goal is much higher than that.
He is right, RSL has shown to be one of the deepest teams in the Champions League, as we played one of the favorites with a lineup that was less than our very best, but a lineup that showed that everyone wearing the claret and cobalt takes it very seriously and has the skill and ability to play this game at a very high level.
In the morning I will post the post match press conference with Jason Kreis as well as comments from both locker rooms, until then sleep tight.
OFF MY SOAPBOX