Best of 2011: MLSsoccer.com's inside look at Monterrey-RSL
We sent both senior content producer Simon Borg and videographer Scott Riddell to Mexico to cover the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League finals, but Scott (pictured below) was an old hand with RSL by then. He'd already spent much of the spring chronicling the club's every move in the CCL in his Champions League 360 series. Here, Scott offers up his memories of our Game of the Year and the storylines that went into the match.
Having spent far more time with the Real Salt Lake team than my own friends, family and roommate through the quarterfinals of February and the semis of March, I felt pretty heavily invested in these finals once April came along. The team seemed extraordinarily loose through our entire stay in Mexico – I remember the entertaining game of horseshoes won by Javier Morales and Will Johnson at training the day before, in front of the gathered Mexican media – and that lack of perceived pressure certainly carried over onto the field.
One interesting pregame development was the cast worn by Johnson, who had hurt his wrist in New England a few weeks earlier, and needed to get the gameday version cleared by the officials at the team hotel. The team doctor, Andrew Cooper, and the trainers, Tyson Pace and Kevin Christen, managed to produce a contraption that passed inspection, though not without Will himself sweet-talking the officials throughout the brief meeting to ensure their cooperation.
Besides thinking that Humberto Suazo was maybe going to score every time he touched the ball, I was struck by how casually the Monterrey coach, players and fans seemed to be taking this one early on – the crowd almost seemed disinterested until Nat Borchers equalized in the first half on a header (on a beautiful ball from the creatively casted Johnson), an initial bit of a shock settling over the stadium, and the chants gradually getting louder from that point forward.
I remember talking with Arturo Alvarez a few days earlier, as he was continuing to figure out how to fit in with this new team, and since he wasn’t part of the group that qualified for the knockout stages (he joined the team in the offseason), he really wanted to do something to make an impact on these knockout stages.
He entered the match late and, on the pivotal play, kept the ball alive along the sideline before getting it to Morales and letting him work his magic. Nobody was smiling bigger than Artie after this one, except possibly Javier.
Battling back twice from deficits in an increasingly hostile environment, against the defending Mexican champions while simultaneously fighting oppressive humidity – of all the remarkable things Real Salt Lake did during this run, for me, this was the most impressive. And it’s an easy choice as the Game of the Year.
WATCH: Champions League 360 - Game Day in Monterrey