Often this year there have been critical matches, important weeks but knowing that the RSL roster was specifically kept together this year to do two things (win MLS trophies and win the Champions League), this week simply may be the most one that determines the future of RSL.
Tuesday evening RSL will take on Tauro FC in Panama in their 3rd Champions League match, anything less than a convincing win, will likely mean that RSL won't win their group and won't advance to the knockout rounds of the tournament, the biggest of the goals set for the 2012 version of Real Salt Lake. With CS Herediano already having two wins in the tournament including a win at Tauro FC, the thought that 7 points might be enough to win the group is a fantasy at this point as you have to believe that Herediano will pick up the win over Tauro FC at home next week, which would give them 9 points.
Now given RSL's performance against Tauro at home last month, I fully expect that RSL not only can pick up the win on the road but will. Tauro like RSL has struggled a bit lately, they are 1-1-1 in their last 3 league matches, and while they are just 5-2-3 overall they are still in first place in the Panamanian league. So let me be clear RSL not only needs to win the match but they need to do so by at least 2-3 goals, as road goals are a huge factor both in the tiebreakers within the group but in the seeding for the knockout rounds. The first tiebreaker is overall goal differential and the next one is away goals, right now Herediano has a +2 with two matches (Tauro FC at home, and at RSL) and RSL has a +1 with our two matches remaining (at Tauro FC, and Herediano at home).
After the jump, what might happen if RSL doesn't get a win on Tuesday.The possible scenarios are simple:
RSL wins on Tuesday and then set themselves up for a dramatic showdown with Herediano at Rio Tinto Stadium on October 23rd with their CCL hopes still alive. They can also use the momentum from a win on Tuesday to help as they move forward with their MLS season including an important home match against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, Sept. 22nd.
The unlikely happens and RSL draws or loses on Tuesday. Well it has been clear that winning the Champions League was a major for the team, and not advancing past the group stage would likely mean that RSL has to start making some major changes to their roster in the off season. The pundits around Major League Soccer are quick to point out that RSL is the oldest team in the league and that we lack both breakaway speed and width in our attack, something that has become a requirement for most teams in the league. They are right on the age point, we have 7 players 30 or older on our roster and each of them are regular starters and part of the "first choice" lineup for RSL: Rimando, Olave, Borchers, Wingert, Beckerman, Morales, and Saborio all have hit the big 30.
No matter what happens on Tuesday the week will wrap up on Saturday when the Portland Timbers come to town for one of RSL's last two league home matches of the year, and with RSL now having dropped to 4th place in the Western Conference, every point is vital. At home the standard should be to win every time and while the team has clearly struggled at home this year, the Timbers are a team that we not only should but a team we must beat if we are serious about making a run at MLS Cup this year. Finishing in one of the top 3 places in the West is almost a must if RSL are going to make a serious run in the playoffs.
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