How should Real Salt Lake approach the 1st leg of the CONCACAF Champions League?

Tomorrow evening, Real Salt Lake travels to Columbus Crew Stadium for the 1st leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.  RSL can choose to play for a few different outcomes.  Since this is an away game, RSL could look to bunker, settle for the tie and go for the series win in the Rio Tinto fortress, counting on its unbeaten streak at home to advance to the semifinals.  They could look to go for a one-goal win in Columbus, bunker the rest of the game, and then be satisfied with a tie at Rio Tinto.  Another tactic would be to go all-out in Columbus, seeking a multi-goal win, then being able to be relaxed in Rio Tinto knowing that even a one-goal loss would still allow RSL to advance.

Analysis of these options after the jump:

Given the circumstances, looking for the tie in the away leg would seem ideal, at least at first.  Both teams are in preseason form, so the mid-season sharpness will not be there yet.  RSL has a couple of questions at striker right now, with Saborio coming off of knee surgery, Findley’s departure and Alvarez not having played a game yet for RSL.  However, the main argument against this strategy is what happened to Columbus when they tried this in 2009.  They rested Schelotto in the 1st leg of the 2009 playoffs at Rio Tinto and it came back to haunt them when Yura scored in the waning minutes to give RSL the 1-0 lead.  Since the away goal applies in this competition (it didn’t in the MLS playoffs), it’s even more important that RSL gets on the scoreboard in Columbus, compared to 18 months ago.  Combined with the argument that RSL is better playing its type of soccer, bunkering and settling for the tie should not be the approach.

So let’s say RSL gets that goal and is up 1-0.  Now is the time to bunker and be happy with the result, right?  Nope.  Why?  Once again, that’s not the way RSL plays best.  Plus, the Cruz Azul game in Mexico shows just how quickly the circumstances of a soccer game can change.  Granted, that game was played in what looked like a giant kiddie wading pool, but the point is the same.  RSL doesn’t play its best when it bunkers.

RSL should go for the throat; multiple away-goals.  Columbus lost a lot this offseason (Hejduk and Schelotto being the big names); RSL lost very little. This doesn’t mean RSL should be reckless and throw numbers forward looking for away goals; that obviously leaves them vulnerable to a counterattack.  Rather, RSL should look to play its style of soccer:  control, possession, and then strike.  In my mind, a multiple-goal win in Columbus should be the sought-after and optimum result.  A one-goal win is acceptable, a tie is a disappointment and a loss would be a wasted opportunity.

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