It has been over two years since Real Salt Lake last played in the CONCACAF Champions League. Now, after posting the fourth-best record in Major League Soccer for the 2014 season, RSL is on the cusp of receiving a spot into the coveted regional tournament.
There are four spots available for U.S.-based clubs and three have already been accounted for. If the LA Galaxy wins MLS Cup over the New England Revolution on Sunday at the StubHub Center, the fourth will go to Real Salt Lake.
The four allotments go to the winner of the U.S. Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, the MLS Cup and the best regular season record in the conference opposite the Supporters’ Shield winners. With Seattle Sounders FC winning the U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield this year, they occupy one slot, while the Galaxy takes up the spot earned with the Supporters’ Shield win. D.C. United had the best record in the Eastern Conference and is the third team in.
RSL finished the season with a 15-8-11 record (56 points) in Head Coach Jeff Cassar’s first year at the helm. In earning the third seed in the Western Conference, Salt Lake is first in line for the Champions League berth should the Galaxy win MLS Cup.
This would be a great opportunity for the club to expand its regional brand and get back into the competition after a tough exit in the Group Stage in the 2012-2013 tournament. RSL went 2-1-1 in that year’s Group Stage, falling just shy of 3-0-1 Herediano of Costa Rica to advance to the Quarterfinal Round.
In the 2010-2011 tournament, RSL reached the final on a storybook run through the Group Stage – which featured an epic 5-4 defeat to Cruz Azul in a downpour in Mexico. In that tournament championship, RSL fell one goal short of becoming the first MLS club to win CONCACAF Champions League in its current format. No other MLS club has reached the final, making the accomplishment stand out even more.
So while we all would much rather be in the match itself and having the club’s Champions League fate in the hands of RSL’s players, it instead lies with Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy. And although it would pain many to openly root for one of RSL’s Western Conference rivals, fans could still watch Sunday on ESPN with a bit of a rooting interest knowing that a Galaxy win would greatly benefit Real Salt Lake. Kickoff on Sunday is scheduled for 1 p.m. MT.
The LA Galaxy won’t be a happy bunch at Saturday’s RSL home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium.
LA lost its CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal series on Tuesday night, falling 4-2 in the second leg at Mexican side Club Tijuana to drop the series 4-3 on aggregate.
LA got off to a nightmare start at Estadio Caliente, giving up three goals in the first 30 minutes to fall behind 3-1 on aggregate. The Galaxy pulled within one goal when Robbie Keane put away a 47th minute free kick, but fell behind 4-2 on aggregate when Richard Ruiz scored for Tijuana in the 82nd minute. Keane pulled LA back again in the 85th, but it wasn’t enough, with LA failing to find a winner in the game’s final stages.
The CCL Quarterfinal loss adds to LA’s rough start to the season, with the Galaxy now having a Champions League loss under their belts to go along with their season opening defeat to your Claret-and-Cobalt. Real Salt Lake will look for its second win against LA on Saturday, opening its 2014 home schedule at 2:00 p.m. MT against its Western Conference rival. Get your tickets here.
Real Salt Lake will open its 2014 home schedule on Saturday, when the LA Galaxy will come to Rio Tinto Stadium for a 2:00 p.m. kickoff.
The Galaxy aren’t worried about Saturday’s match just yet, however, what with the small matter of a CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal second leg at Mexican club Tijuana to attend to tonight. The Galaxy beat Xolos in the first leg of the series last Wednesday, topping the Baja California club 1-0 at StubHub Center.
Tonight they have a taller order: Hold off Tijuana in a hostile environment south of the border. LA will need a strong performance from its full complement of players if they’re to advance past Xolos and into the CCL Semifinals, where they would face the winner of the Sporting Kansas City-Cruz Azul series. The first leg of that series would be played on April 1, 2 or 3.
Tonight’s LA-Tijuana second leg kicks off at 8:00 p.m. MT. Watch it live on Fox Sports 2.
The San Jose Earthquakes got a decent result in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal series against Toluca on Tuesday night, getting a 95th minute goal from forward Alan Gordon to tie the Mexican side 1-1 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
The Quakes generated the majority of the chances on Tuesday, but couldn’t capitalize, getting punished when Toluca’s Raul Nava rocketed home an 18-yard volley in the 67th minute to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Gordon pulled one back for the Quakes at the absolute death, heading home a Shea Salinas set piece to give San Jose hope heading into next Wednesday’s second leg.
Tuesday’s result should be enough for San Jose Head Coach Mark Watson to run out a full lineup for next week’s series finale in Guadalajara. That means that RSL could see a second-choice Quakes lineup when they take on the Bay Area side this Saturday night in San Jose, with Watson possibly choosing to rest some of his regulars with an eye on the second leg against Toluca.
Real Salt Lake has enjoyed a good amount of success in San Jose over the years, compiling a 4-4-1 regular season record at the Quakes. RSL won its last match at San Jose, getting a brace from forward Alvaro Saborio to top San Jose 2-0 in the 2013 MLS season opener.
Real Salt Lake put Saturday’s season opening win over LA to bed on Tuesday, beginning to prepare for this Saturday’s MLS match at San Jose Earthquakes with a workout at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Saturday’s game will be San Jose’s MLS regular season opener, as the Quakes were one of three teams to have a bye on opening weekend. Of course, San Jose had a good reason to take last weekend off, with the team avoiding what would’ve been a tricky bit of schedule congestion ahead of Tuesday’s first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal series against Mexican Club Toluca.
San Jose is taking its matchup with Toluca very seriously, and Quakes Head Coach Mark Watson is expected to run out a first-choice lineup for Tuesday’s first leg at Buck Shaw Stadium. Regardless of their attitude, advancing out of the quarters will be a tough ask for the Bay Area side, which will have to get by a Toluca team flying high through two months of the Liga MX Clausura season.
Tuesday’s match could affect how the San Jose lineup looks on Saturday against RSL, with a good result possibly prompting Watson to give some of his starters a breather on Saturday ahead of next Wednesday’s second leg in Toluca. A bad result tonight will likely shift San Jose’s focus back to MLS play, and would probably prod Watson to put out a full team on Saturday against the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Long story short, RSL fans: Pull for San Jose against Toluca tonight. Not only will you be showing solidarity with a fellow MLS club, but you’ll also be rooting for RSL on Saturday, if only indirectly.
San Jose will take on Toluca at 8:00 p.m. MT tonight on Fox Sports 2. Brian Dunseth – everyone’s favorite color commentator – will be on the call with excellent play-by-play man John Strong.
Real Salt Lake has been here before.
The Claret-and-Cobalt has taken a two-goal lead into the second leg of a tournament semifinals series once already, in the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals against Costa Rican club Saprissa. RSL topped Saprissa 2-0 in the first leg of the CCL Semis at Rio Tinto Stadium in March 2011, then went down to Alvaro Saborio’s former club for the second leg, losing 1-2 to win 3-2 on aggregate and move on to the CCL Final against Monterrey.
That CCL second leg was played on artificial turf in the incredibly daunting atmosphere at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, affectionately known as The Monster’s Cave. Conditions will be similar for this Sunday’s Western Conference Championship finale at Portland, with RSL again taking a two-goal lead into a second leg, again heading into a very tough atmosphere – the Timbers are 14-1-5 at JELD-WEN Field this year – and again playing on turf.
Let’s hope the Claret-and-Cobalt can advance from this one, too. Kick is at 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN.
NBC Sports Network's MLS Insider show featured Real Salt Lake on Friday night, diving in for an in-depth piece on the Claret-and-Cobalt's run to the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League Final. NBCSN spoke with a number of RSL notables for the piece, talking to Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis, Captain Kyle Beckerman, midfielder Javier Morales, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and defender Nat Borchers, among others.
Check out the entire piece above. Click here to watch the entire MLS Insider episode.
Tuesday night’s scoreless draw against C.S. Herediano may have eliminated Real Salt Lake from this year's CONCACAF Champions League, but the team still has plenty left to play for before the MLS Cup Playoffs begin next week.
RSL will take on Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in the MLS regular season finale on Saturday (Kickoff at 7 p.m. MT on CW30), and playoff seeding, potential MLS Cup hosting and qualification for next year’s CCL could very well all be on the line.
We’ll start with playoff seeding. The Claret-and-Cobalt currently sits in third-place in the Western Conference, tied on points with Seattle but trailing Sounders FC by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker. Barring a big blowout win on Saturday, RSL won’t be able to make up the five goals it trails Seattle by to win the tiebreaker. That means that the Utah side needs to get a better result than Sounders FC does this weekend – the Cascadia club plays at L.A. on Sunday night – in order to finish with the West's second-seed.
Finishing second in the West would mean that RSL would host the second-leg of its Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle. Finishing third would mean the team would host the first-leg and travel to the Pacific Northwest for the second.
Hosting MLS Cup
The league made a change to the MLS Cup format this year, switching the host site from a neutral venue to the home stadium of the team with a higher point total. If RSL should make it to Cup, it would need to have a higher point total than the Eastern Conference champ in order to host the final at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The only team in the East that RSL cannot finish above is Sporting Kansas City, which is seven points ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt. Things are a lot tighter with D.C., Chicago, New York and Houston, all of which could finish above or below Real Salt Lake depending on how things go this weekend.
Here’s how it breaks down: If RSL beats Vancouver on Saturday, it will finish the season with 59 points. That will automatically put the team ahead of New York and Houston. It won’t, however, necessarily put the team ahead of Chicago or D.C., which play each other at Toyota Park on Saturday.
D.C. would finish one point ahead of RSL if both teams win, Chicago – which right now has one fewer goal scored than RSL – would tie RSL if both win, and RSL would finish ahead of both D.C. and the Fire should those two teams draw.
RSL could finish behind all five Eastern Conference teams – thereby eliminating any chance of hosting MLS Cup – should it lose on Saturday.
Two of the four American slots for the 2013/14 CONCACAF Champions League have already been filled. The first was taken by Kansas City, which qualified by winning the U.S. Open Cup in August. The second was filled by the San Jose Earthquakes, which nabbed a spot by winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
The two remaining American CCL spots will go to the teams that qualify for MLS Cup. Because San Jose and Kansas City have already qualified for the CCL, if either/both of those teams make it to Cup, the remaining CCL spot(s) – one or two, depending on if one or both make it to Cup – would go to the team(s) that finished with the next highest regular season point total.
All of that means that RSL - currently fifth in the league table - can qualify for the 2013/14 CCL by: A) Making it to MLS Cup B) Finishing third in the MLS regular season standings with one of San Jose or Kansas City making MLS Cup or C) Finishing third or fourth in the MLS regular season standings with both San Jose and Kansas City making MLS Cup.
Got all that? Great.
We'll be back next week with a full rundown of how everything shook out.
Tactics are only a piece of the puzzle in a soccer match, but in the case of Real Salt Lake’s scoreless draw with Herediano on Tuesday that eliminated the Claret-and-Cobalt from the CONCACAF Champions League, they were perhaps the most important piece.
The first 45
The first half of the match was riddled with shots from RSL. Forward Fabian Espindola had golden opportunity bounce off the crossbar for the team’s most prominent chance. It was perhaps frustrating that none of the seven shots on target translated into goals, but that's less a tactical concern and more an execution concern.
Herediano had left RSL with space around the outside of the box, and with this, they were able to make connecting passes and burst inside. More than half of RSL's passes were in the attack half, and from this, a plethora of shots were on hand. Six of the 12 shots came from inside the box, and four of those were on the left side. Fabian Espindola was having a screamer, despite his crossbar-struck shot.
Additionally, RSL did really well to pick up on any danger provided by Herediano, who hadn't yet begun the bunkering process. Aware that a goal would do them well, they got forward, sometimes in numbers. But eight interceptions and 20 clearances in the first half alone is indicative of a home side playing to its defensive strengths.
The second 45
The second half saw the entire dynamic of the match shift. Herediano tucked into an even more narrow shape, surrendered possession until very late, and resorted to a bunkering approach. With anywhere between six and ten men in the box at any given moment, they had a distinct advantage in defending approach play.
When RSL's options were limited by injury — Will Johnson and Chris Schuler both exiting — Kreis's substitution options were significantly limited. Sebastian Velasquez was the sole truly attacking substitution, and while he was able to work into some excellent positions, one or two more attacking subs would have certainly helped.
As time started to run out, Herediano shifted its approach slightly: The players took opportunity to retain possession and move toward the corner flags. It was very much a standard approach of a side looking to retain a scoreline, and it certainly played into their hands. RSL was forced to send men back to regain possession, and from there, the attacking setup was broken up.
By the time RSL could transition back into attack, Herediano had eaten valuable time off the clock. It was a strong way for the visitors to end the match, and it scuppered any thought of a late goal from the home side, ending RSL’s CCL dream.
Real Salt Lake put in a good effort, but couldn’t find the back of the net on Tuesday night, tying Costa Rican side C.S. Herediano 0-0 in the Group 2 finale to fall out of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
The number of fans who braved the cold and the rain to come out to Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night. It was the fifth-consecutive sell-out and 10th full house of the year for RSL, both club records.
Thanks so much for your support, RSL fans.
Minutes since RSL last gave up a goal. The Claret-and-Cobalt hasn’t conceded since allowing L.A. forward Robbie Keane to score in the 17th minute of RSL’s 2-1 win at the Galaxy on Oct. 6.
The number of key passes – defined as a pass that leads to a shot – for RSL midfielder Javier Morales on Tuesday night.
The number of shots RSL took on Tuesday night compared to the number of shots Herediano took on Tuesday night.
The difference in the number of successful passes for RSL – which had 473 completed balls – and Herediano – which had 172 – on Tuesday night.
The number of weeks until RSL begins its Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle Sounders FC. Specific dates, times, seeds and broadcast info for the home-and-home series have yet to be determined.