CCL: RSL reach benchmark, eye knockouts

MLSers go atop group with nine points after defeat of Árabe Unido

RSL head coach Jason Kreis has always said that nine points should be enough to advance out of the CONCACAF group stage, though 10 points will ensure success.

Mission partly accomplished, then, for RSL.

RSL's 3-2 defeat of Panamanian side Árabe Unido on Wednesday puts them in a good position to make the knockout rounds as they now top Group A with nine points.

This leaves them in a position to advance with a draw against either Toronto or Cruz Azul, or Toronto failing to get three points at home against Árabe Unido.

“We’re hopeful that one more solid effort on our part will put us through, and we can take it easy in the last match," head coach Jason Kreis said.

The match may have felt a little like déjà vu, though.

For the fourth time in four Champions League matches, the Claret-and-Cobalt gave up an early goal. This time they surrendered the tally in just the second minute of the match.

The trend is certainly disturbing.

Fortunately, Will Johnson’s determination helped carry his team to victory. It was obvious he was moved by his team's poor start and was determined to do something aboutit. This is a trait in Johnson that often surfaces when his team finds itself in a difficult position.

Johnson earned the equalizer in the 10th minute, and his goal off of a smart run to beat the offside trap just before the half gave RSL the two-goal advantage.

In addition, his second tally on the night marked the third time in four Champions League matches that an RSL player has registered a brace, with the other two going to forward Ávaro Saborío.

“We really needed a couple of guys to show a bit more energy than we
have the past couple of games," Kreis said. "I always say, it’s
interesting how the players who seem to show the most energy and passion
for the game are getting rewarded ... so that’s good.”

However, despite Johnson’s efforts, all was not rosy for RSL.

The team came into the match with a key defensive question mark. With central defender Nat Borchers staying behind for some much needed rest, the team was, and has been all season long, looking for a capable reserve to emerge.

Rookie Chris Schuler appeared to be the answer to that after an exceptional game a few weeks back in Seattle. However, his anemic back pass to goalkeeper Nick Rimando early in the second half set off an extended streak of defensive lapses for the entire crew.

Another question mark existed in midfield, with both Andy Williams (rest) and Javier Morales (injury) left out of this contest. These two players often set the tempo for the team and orchestrate the attack. Although Johnson helped early on, it became clear in the later stages that RSL lacked the typical cadence to their game.

Despite these deficiencies, RSL were able to accomplish what they set out to do in Panama: They gained three points and put themselves in a position to completely control their own destiny as they seek to progress from the group stages..