So during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, tens of millions of you all across the nation stood up and support the US Men's National Team as they fought to establish the United States as a world power in soccer, and yet I am going to imagine that many of you have thought nothing about tonight's match between Real Salt Lake and Deportivo Saprissa. I don't really blame you, but I am here to set the record straight about why you should be paying attention.
I understand that many of you don't understand the rules of soccer, despite them being much simpler than those of any other major sport. There are really just 17 "laws of the game" you can read about them in more detail than anyone cares to know about here.
There are also some of you who don't watch MLS or soccer in general because you find it boring, not enough goals, not enough action, and that is a typical response to those who have only seen the matches on TV (not something we can solve today), but I would say that taking time to pay attention to Real Salt Lake is worth a look, they were the highest scoring team in Major League Soccer in 2010 and were the 2nd highest scoring team in Champions' League group play. OK there is the road block, what is this Champions League thing?
I will explain it after the jump:
So in soccer there are national teams like those who competed in the World Cup last year, and then there are club teams, the professional teams that play in leagues in most of the nations around the world. So in soccer there are 6 geographic regions that are represented by various nations in the World Cup, they qualify to represent their regions (the United States is in CONCACAF), and just like the World Cup where national teams play, there is the FIFA World Club Cup. This is the annual competition where the club teams compete to see who is the best in the world, but to get to this competition you must win your region as only the top team from each region are invited to the World Club Cup. No US club team has ever represented the nation or Major League Soccer in the World Club Cup.
In fact since the CONCACAF (our region - which is North America, Central America, and the Caribbean) started taking part in the World Club Cup, no team from the United States has ever made it even to the Semi-finals of the regional tournament, The Champions League. That is until now, as a result of winning the 2009 MLS Cup, Real Salt Lake was entered into the tournament as one of the teams representing the United States. The Tournament starts with qualifying matches, but as the league champions RSL were able to skip that phase and entered in what is called the group stage. The group stage is where all the qualified teams (16) are divided into 4 groups of 4 teams for round robin play. The top two teams from each group are entered into the quarterfinals, and then the winners advance to the semifinals, and then the winners of those matches will face off in the finals.
Anyhow Real Salt Lake was the first team from the United States to win their group stage, and is also the first team to win in the quarterfinals and advance to the semifinals. That is where we are today, so each of the knockout rounds are a home and home series, and in the first "leg" of the semifinals Real Salt Lake hosted their semifinal opponent Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica at Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL were 2-0 winners in that match and will take that lead with them into the second "leg" match which will be played tonight in San Juan Costa Rica. That match will take place at 10pm ET and be broadcast on the Fox Soccer Channel as well as on Telefutura. Many soccer fans are saying this is one of the biggest matches ever for a Major League Soccer team as gaining respect on an international level is something that the league and its teams are striving for.
So what does this mean to you?
Well remember that passion you had for the USMNT as they faced off against the best of the world, well you should have that same level of passion tonight at Real Salt Lake represents the United States in the Champions League. Now you may not know the names of the players as well, but give this group a chance. They play an attractive attacking style of soccer, quick short passes and a fast pace based on possessing the ball, many compare their style to that played by some of the great clubs of the world (Barcelona, Arsenal, and others) and RSL are fighting for their right to face the best clubs the world has to offer. You will see the best goalkeeper in MLS, Nick Rimando. Defender of the year Jamison Olave, his fellow defenders Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, and either Robbie Russell or Tony Beltran starting for RSL. The midfield is considered the best in Major League Soccer by many, anchored by team captain Kyle Beckerman (you can miss him or his dreads), creative play maker Javier Morales, outside midfielders Will Johnson (regular on the Canadian National team) and Andy Williams. One of the great story lines of the series with Saprissa comes from forward Alvaro Saborio, who started his career with the club but after a stint playing in Europe joined RSL in 2010. He is joined by one of the most intense players on the team Fabian Espindola, who is simply a joy to watch play.
Real Salt Lake also boasts one of the deepest rosters in Major League Soccer, with names like Paulo Jr, Arturo Alvarez, Ned Grabavoy, Chris Schuler, Rauwshan McKenzie, and others who will round out their roster for this match. Real Salt Lake are the fighting to the first team to ever represent the United States in the Champions League final, to do so they must advance tonight.
Will you join the RSL and MLS fans that are supporting them?
Will you show your support for the team fighting for the pride of the United States?
Will you take a couple hours to give this team your support? If so you can watch the match at 10pm ET on either Fox Soccer Channel or Telefutura.
OFF MY SOAPBOX