CONCACAF Champions League Final: 2nd Leg Preview
Tomorrow night Real Salt Lake will host the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final with a strong chance to be the third MLS team to win the tournament and the first to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup. After fighting back twice during the first leg to earn a 2-2 tie with Monterrey, Real Salt Lake is hoping that playing at their home field, Rio Tinto Stadium, will give them the edge they need.
Thanks to the away goal rule, RSL can win the tournament with at least a 1-1 or 0-0 tie and with a 37 game unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto, a favorable result seems almost destined.
RSL’s home crowd should also add to the team’s advantage. In many cases when an American team plays an opponent from South or Central America the crowd can easily turn a home game into an away one, but RSL fans are hoping to keep their home field advantage intact. The game is already sold out and there is talk of setting up large screens outside of the stadium for fans who couldn’t get tickets to watch.
In addition to the support of local fans, the entirety of the MLS is getting behind the league’s remaining contender in the Champions League, going so far as to reschedule RSL’s league game against Philadelphia last Saturday so the team could concentrate on the tournament final.
Despite the off-field advantages, RSL still needs a good showing on the field. During the first leg, Monterrey dominated play and had more scoring chances, but the RSL backline was able to hold them off long enough to earn a tie thanks greatly to the play of goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Knowing that they can get away with a low-scoring tie could cause RSL to play more defensively and try to take advantage of a counter attack or set piece, but the first leg showed that style could backfire. This time around the defense needs to tighten up even more because of missing support in the midfield
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman is suspended due to yellow card accumulation after he picked one up during the first leg. Replacing Beckerman is not going to be easy. Either Andy Williams or Arturo Alvarez could find themselves in the starting line-up and Ned Grabavoy has been a stand-in for Beckerman in the past, but replacing Beckerman’s leadership and defensive abilities may have to fall to more than just one player. The team will have to stay disciplined and keep their shape in the back and the middle of the field.
Monterrey also has some hurdles to get over as well after losing two starters. Forward Aldo de Nigris and midfielder Luis Perez had to be subbed out after 20 minutes during the first leg because of injuries and will be unavailable to play Wednesday. Monterrey will also not be as rested as RSL because they had a league game this weekend.
Many factors are favoring RSL, but it may end up being just enough to put the teams on level ground and create an exciting end to the team’s amazing showing in the tournament. This is already a historic game for RSL, MLS and US Soccer, but we’re all pulling for a more historic result.
The game will be televised on FSC with coverage starting at 9:00pm CST.
Thanks to Edwin for bringing this graphic to our attention. Click to make larger.