RSL lean on CONCACAF vets for tourney debut
LEHI, Utah – Real Salt Lake will try to muster all their collective CONCACAF experience for their first match in the Champions League against Árabe Unido of Panama on Wednesday.
That experience won't come from the coach, as Jason Kreis admitted, “I don’t have the greatest international pedigree in coaching against CONCACAF opponents.”
But several RSL players do have experience in regional play in the Champions League's predecessor, the CONCACAF Champions' Cup. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando saw action in the competition while playing for D.C. United. He points out that RSL need to come out strong.
“It’s good for us because we play our first game at home, and we’re going to play exactly like we always do at home," Rimando said. "We have to get a win here.”
Teammate Andy Williams also played in the Champions' Cup while he was with the Chicago Fire. For him, CONCACAF play has one particular challenge that can be difficult to cope with.
“The most important thing is traveling – that throws a wrinkle into everything," the Jamaican-born midfielder said. "But we have an experienced squad with quite a few international players, so we should be fine.”
Alvaro Saborio, in particular, is the team’s most decorated CONCACAF veteran. He scored a goal in the quarterfinals of the tournament in 2004 when his club, Saprissa, fell to Costa Rican rivals Alajuelense. He was also a member of the Saprissa team in 2005 that won the tournament and went on to take third place at the FIFA Club World Cup.
Saborío is a man of few words, and may not vocally lead his team into the match, but will help show them the way with his play on the field.
Robbie Russell, meanwhile, has also seen Champions League action. But his experience came in the UEFA version of the tournament – Russell was with Rosenborg B.K. of Norway in 2004, and received two starts for them at right back in UEFA Champions League.
“It is a learning experience, but there is no way that you can prepare the team for something they haven’t done," the defender said. "You just have to go through it. It’s trial by fire.”