For Real Salt Lake fans, staff and a good part of the roster, the sting of April 27, 2011 is still fairly fresh, for some they have only heard about that day, but on Tuesday all of that is put behind us as we begin a new journey, one that will hopefully take us back to the CONCACAF Champions League final again next spring. 12 of the 16 players who saw action that day will be eligible for action on Tuesday.
Real Salt Lake is 6-3-3 all time in Champions League action, and won their group in 2010 with a 4-1-1 record, away from Rio Tinto they are 1-2-3 with 8 goals scored and 8 allowed. At the time RSL was the first US team to win a group in CCL, but this time with only the winners you can expect a lot more intensity from MLS teams taking part in the tournament. The added pressure of each group winner having their group record determine their ranking heading into the knockout rounds means there is little room for mistakes and no room for a team to bunker and hope for draws.
I am not an expert on Costa Rican or Panamanian soccer and will never claim to be, but we know a couple things about the teams we will be facing. First up is CS Herediano, this is their third time in Champions League and they qualified after winning the Costa Rican title, their first in 20 years. Last year they finished in last place in their group with a 2-4-0 record, with 6 goals scored and 11 goals allowed, they did get a 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders and 4-1 win over Comunicaciones of El Salvador.
There has been a lot of talk about some financial issues and a lot of roster moves made in their off season, they have only played one match so far in their season a 2-0 win but just as the knockout rounds come early in the MLS season, it is clear that the group stages will come very early in the season of the Primera División de Costa Rica. Their two goals were scored by: Jose Cubero and Ismael Gomez, Gomez is from Argentina, and is one of just two foreign players on the Herediano roster, the other is Hercules Cadoso of Brazil. If you have seen the Columbus Crew play, you may have seen Olman Vargas who is on loan from Herediano, on of their many off season moves.
more thoughts about the match on Tuesday after the jump:
RSL will know a bit about some of their players as Alvaro Saborio has played with some of their players with the Costa Rican national team, and it sounds as if some of the RSL players watched some tape of them on the flight down to the match. Oh a big shout out to the owners of RSL, for chartering the team a jet to help them avoid some of the travel issues that can and often do happen when going to Central America.
I believe the key for RSL will be simple, play like they have the last two weeks, control the possession and capitalize on their chances, it will be a hostile away crowd but with just 4 matches in the group stage there is no time for anything but an aggressive, attacking style but I think that will be just fine Jason and the team.
If I am right and Alvaro Saborio is just getting warmed up and into form, well that will really help RSL and could help get a big result on the road. When you add the energy and speed of Fabian Espindola, he will probably cause some nightmares for their defenders, and what could be the wildcard of Champions League for RSL is Justin Braun, a unique combination of size, strength, speed, and skill who is just getting adjusted to being with his new team.
Our midfield could be back to what many fans have expected as all 4 top guys should be able to go on Tuesday, we have seen both Javier Morales and Will Johnson getting better each week, a healthy Ned Grabavoy could boost a bit of bite to go along side of Kyle Beckerman who has been having a very good season. Then you add in the ability to bring in guys like Luis Gil or Jonny Steele and you should be able to keep up with a team that is known to like attacking from the outside vs going up the middle.
Of course you then have our defenders and with Jamison Olave and Chris Wingert getting last weekend off to rest and recover, and add in Tony Beltran and Nat Borchers and well you get a very solid defensive unit that when combined with Nick Rimando in goal has been very good in most of their recent matches.
All of this leads me to believe that while getting a win in Central America is never easy it is something that I think RSL has been building to the last couple of week, I am going with a 2-1 road win for RSL.
OFF MY SOAPBOX