Some out there will say that the Tuesday night match in San Juan, Costa Rica will be the biggest match in RSL's history and some are saying the impact of this match holds an incredible amount of weight on the future of Major League Soccer. That is a lot of pressure to put on the players and coaches of Real Salt Lake, but if anyone is up to the task it is RSL, who have shown incredible heart and passion for the last couple years.
It is this team that most pundits wrote off in the 2009 MLS Cup, it is this team that has fought to set history with each home win at Rio Tinto, it is this team who have accepted the mission to represent themselves, Major League Soccer, and the soccer fans of the United States in the Champions League. In doing so they became the first MLS team to win their group, the first to make it to the semi finals, and with a favorable result they will be the first to make it to the finals. None of that is enough for the players, staff or fans of Real Salt Lake.
Michael Lewis of the Salt Lake Tribune captured the heart of Real Salt Lake today in talking with Nick Rimando
"Everybody's like, 'You made history already,' and I kind of don't see history being made until we have that trophy," goalkeeper Nick Rimando agreed. "People remember people that win, teams that win. And yeah, we were the first team to get this far, but it says nothing if we don't win the tournament."
more thoughts after the jump:
This match is likely going to be a very physical battle, the first leg saw Saprissa turn to rather dirty tactics after giving up a 9th minute goal to former Saprissa great Alvaro Saborio. In that first leg 5 yellow cards were issued to Saprissa, and 3 of those will keep starters of the first leg out of the match, defenders Jose Mena and Ricardo Blanco will join former RSL player Douglas Sequiera as guys watching this match instead of playing in it.
Nobody expects Saprissa to play a defensive match, they have to score and score often, they are on their home pitch where they are as unbeatable as RSL are at Rio Tinto, but that pressure could be their undoing. With two starting defenders missing, and the need to score multiple goals, they will have to push forward and that could allow RSL to counter attack effectively. Should RSL score a goal, the pressure would be massive as Saprissa would have to win 4-1 to advance, here are the various scenarios for the match:
- RSL victory: Real Salt Lake advances to Final (aggregate series win determined by RSL's margin of victory)
- Draw: Real Salt Lake advances to Final (RSL wins series by two-goal aggregate margin)
- Saprissa wins by one goal: Real Salt Lake advances to Final (RSL wins series by one-goal aggregate margin)
- Saprissa wins 2-0: The series would be tied at 2-2 on aggregate, thereby forcing a 30-minute "mini-game" played in its entirety to determine a winner. Should the mini-game end tied, advancement will be determined via kicks from the penalty spot (Best-of-5).
- Saprissa wins by two goals, but RSL scores: Series tied on aggregate, but Real Salt Lake advances to Final via "away goals" tie-breaker
- Saprissa wins by at least three goals: Saprissa advances to Final (aggregate series win determined by Saprissa's margin of victory)
There are far more positive outcomes for RSL than Saprissa, and I have to imagine that RSL will go into this match with the same type of mentality that they took into their group stage match at Cruz Azul, they will be playing to win and they will be playing their type of soccer. It worked well in the first leg against Saprissa who were quickly frustrated by the quick attacking style and contentious nature of RSL in pressuring the ball.
Perhaps the key to the match will be the first 15 minutes, as RSL head coach Jason Kreis said to ussoccerplayers.com:
"It's an electric atmosphere," said Kreis, who also has watched a game there as a spectator. "Its a very vocal and supportive home crowd. It's quite emotional and they're into the game. The easiest thing for me to tell the players right now is that its' going to be very similar to what teams face when they play us. The crowd is going to be all over things. It's going to be an emotionally charged game. It's going to be a team to be looking to jump all over us in the first 15 minutes."
I can't claim to be knowledgeable about Saprissa, sure I have watched several of their matches and I know they are a quality team, you only have to look at their resume over the last several decades to know how good this team is, but anyone who takes either side for granted is making a huge mistake. I expect this one to be fast paced, high energy, and exciting from first to last whistle. I do think RSL will find that huge road goal that will present Saprissa with a very hard night and in the end it will be Real Salt Lake moving on to the final via a 1-1 draw.
Now some of you aren't RSL fans, but if you are a MLS fan, or just a soccer fan you should be paying attention to this match, not sure who this guy is but MLS Convert said it this way in an article named "The Biggest Match in MLS History".
Admittedly that may be overstating things just a bit. The importance of RSL's CONCACAF Champion's League Match against Saprissa of Costa Rica should not be lost on soccer fans across this nation, however. This is a big deal...we just haven't taken it as such in the past.
I am sure I will have some thoughts just prior to the match, and Tuesday morning I will be starting a match day thread where you all can post your thoughts about the match.
OFF MY SOAPBOX