By JOSE M. ROMERO
Real Salt Lake is set for a sudden start to its 2011 season with Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the Columbus Crew (8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel).
Its preseason training abbreviated by its CCL obligations, Real Salt Lake's need for its players to start training camp in shape and with a sense of familiarity was that much more important. The state of fitness and form will be put on display in Tuesday's key match, but the familiarity from recent years remains.
Real Salt Lake made it a point to hang on to all but one of its core of key players, Robbie Findley, while adding a proven veteran in Arturo Alvarez to an already talented and deep roster. The rest of the team looks a lot like that team that won the MLS Cup in 2009 and made the playoffs in 2010.
The same cannot be said for Columbus, the 2008 MLS Cup champion and perennial Eastern Conference power, which had a mass exodus of lineup stalwarts such as Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Brian Carroll, Steven Lenhart and Gino Padula in a more rocky offseason. When it comes to continuity heading into Tuesday's match, the edge goes to Real Salt Lake.
"That has been huge from the end of 2007 on," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "It was a very well-thought out plan to establish a core at that time. We had four or five players that we considered core players from 2007 and 2008 and we wanted to build around that core. I feel like every year we've been adding one, two, three players to now we've got a core group of players that's bigger than 11."
Kreis said "there's no doubt" that RSL sought to keep that group together and that it's "no easy task either, under a salary cap."
The many names are familiar ones in MLS circles — Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson and Andy Williams anchoring the midfield; Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave the veterans at center back; steady Nick Rimando in goal; and the re-signed Alvaro Saborio — who led the team in goals with 18 in all competitions last season and earned Designated Player contract status — leading a fairly young and talented group of forwards. And that's just the beginning.
Williams, 33, said RSL sought to emulate what the Houston Dynamo did in the mid-2000s when they were playing for MLS Cups with a strong core of players.
"We've played with each other the past two years and we know everybody''s tendencies, so we're not having to learn anything new right now," Willliams said.
Real Salt Lake is a bonafide MLS Cup, CCL and U.S. Open Cup title contender this year after a surprising exit from the 2010 MLS playoffs at the hands of FC Dallas.
"We still have that salty taste in our mouth from losing," Williams said.
Borchers said there's a solid group dynamic within the team and players like playing with each other.
"Fortunately for us, management has recognized that and I think they want to keep the group together," Borchers said. "We definitely have high expectations for ourselves."
Those expectations are raised after Real Salt Lake finished the 2010 regular season with the second-highest point total in MLS, just three points behind the L.A. Galaxy.
But is there a price to pay for so much talent and depth, in terms of players who might openly express discontent over a lack of playing time?
"Everybody wants to play, everybody wants to start," Borchers said. "That's what the business is all about. When you have guys at every position who are fighting for every position on the field, I think that just makes the team better."
Next month, RSL kicks off the MLS regular season, but it has high hopes it can make history in CONCACAF Champions League play, starting with a result in Columbus.
"We definitely want to be the first MLS club to make it to the tournament (championship)," Williams said. "It's a big task that we have in front of us, but I think we have the talent on this squad to pull it out."
The winner plays Saprissa or Olimpia next.
Cruz Azul had more starters than not on the pitch, and got beat 3-1 at the RIOT.
RSL has only the Crew matches to re-gel before they face the in-form Mexican squads. This article highlights their only hope of going all the way in CCL and that’s with it’s strong nucleus of players.
I think even the semi will be tough. Central American fans will be up for that and pack the joint. Saprissa will be a full fortress.
Same could be said for RSL and other MLS teams during CCL qualification matches. All teams were forced to use bench players especially MLS teams who were fighting for a good place in MLS playoffs. We’ll see first team players on all teams. Let’s go RSL!
…make that definite snow.
The Mexican Teams are just now beginning to use their starting lineups, all four Mexican teams have very strong rosters. I believe RSL can meake it to the final, but I doubt they have a chance to win it. what ever mexican team makes it to the final is going to be very difficult to beat, no more subs this is about the time they actually take CCL seriously.
The only video that i’ve seen was produced by RSL.
I’ve got my tickets for the March 1st game, hope all goes well in tomorrow’s match.
I’m rooting for RSL as well, but where the love for Columbus? Both here on this site and on MLSsoccer.com, RSL is being praised through videos and articles, while Columbus is only get a line or two.
Well with the weather as it is and the Blue Jackets playing virtually at the same time, they will be lucky to get 3,000,
It looks like all the games involving Mexican teams will be on Telefutura and the non-Mexican ties on Galavisión.
Also, Concacaf website does list all this week’s games as available streamed on concacaf.com.
Any idea on what the crowd attendance will be?
I don’t know about that, but it will be on Galavisión, if that might be useful to you.
I have been to RSL games in the snow before.
MLS needs to get this shifted ahead in time so we can play later in the year…as if the Mexican sides needed more advantage by playing in mid-season instead of pre-season.
Plus…think of the fans and players. Early February in Columbus? Early March in Salt Lake?
Anyone who wants to see the league grow, that’s who.
Does anyone know whether the game will be broadcast on concacaf.com?
Oops, nevermind. He’s on Gimnasia La Plata down in Argentina.
The weather tomorrow night is going to be cold with possible snow. As geeked as I am for a real live soccer match with MLS teams I’m not sure this game will be played.
Btw, where has Guillermo Barros Schelotto gone to now that he’s no longer with the Crew?
Who cares about MLS? Go Crew! There is no “good of MLS” as far as I’m concerned.
Even as a Crew fan, I just don’t see how Columbus will win more than a handful of games this season though. Management’s reluctance to call it as it is–we’re in the midst of a rebuilding year–won’t make Warzycha’s job any easier. Fans won’t be happy with the team missing the playoffs for the next three years.
Not a Crew or Real Salt Lake supporter but really interested in this game.
Gotta hope RSL knocks off the Crew for the good of MLS in the CCL. Could be a huge year for MLS, and RSL taking the CCL would be a major stepping stone for the league.
RSL showed that they could compete with the Mexican squads, as they almost beat Cruz Azul in Mexico and then thrashed them at home 3-1. I think that this is the year that it could happen. I don’t see any team getting a positive result in SLC, and I think that RSL can sneak one on the road.
At this point I’d be happy with any MLS making a good run. Still think a Mexican team will take it. Maybe in a couple of years that will change.
Anything can happen in a 2-legged tie, but, all things considered, RSL have to be considered the heavy favorites v. the Crew. Either way, it’s thrilling real games are upon us and with the CCL starting tomorrow, that means MLS games are just around the corner. Wa-hoo!!
I know RSL can get the CCL, and MLS Cup for 2011-GO REAL!!!