The match against Columbus Crew this Tuesday is bigger than just the CONCACAF tournament. Of course we have all heard how much winning CONCACAF would mean for the Real Salt Lake organization, the community, its players, the MLS, and the state of soccer in America. Undoubtedly, in the event that RSL were to win CONCACAF all of the repercussions would be huge. I will be the first to agree with RSL that this tournament means more than the MLS Cup at this point. Playing alongside the likes of Barcelona and Inter Milan would do wonders for Real Salt Lake, especially given the challenges it has as a small market club. RSL would surely set the foundation for being a respectable club worldwide. And that is precisely what makes me so anxious, even nervous about the upcoming game, similar to what I felt when FC Dallas came to Utah last year for the second game of a two-game series but for different reasons.
Last year I was nervous because while I was confident that ReAL could take care of business at home, I knew what it would mean if they did not. As we all know, they were actually unable to do what was needed at home last Fall and that meant the abrupt end to a fantastic season. No more playoffs, no coveted repeat. The season was still an immense success though. This year, the consequences of losing this game could be even more far-reaching. Losing to the Crew on the 1st would not mean missing a couple more MLS playoff games. No, no. This would mean that our entire season could be in jeopardy.
I am not one to jump off of a cliff after one loss, but with all the emphasis that the club has put on this tournament, a solid win could set precedence for the rest of the year and give them serious confidence and momentum right from the beginning. But a loss? A loss could mean that all of the contract renewals and acquisitions aimed at winning CONCACAF, all the schedule accommodations, all the hype could be in vain. It could instantly return that sick feeling in the stomach that the club and all of its die-hard fans had after the unexpected elimination last season. That is no way to start a season. Real Salt Lake has typically started their season off slower than one would prefer, but they typically are not playing one of the most important if not the most important games of their careers right off the bat after a shortened offseason and an even shorter preseason.
I am sure that the fans will bring their passion and boost up their team. And for the record, I think RSL will win. But if they don’t?