While the majority of the teams in Major League Soccer have given the CONCACAF Champions League nothing more than lip service, Real Salt Lake has never shied away from making it a priority.
In fact, the Utah side has repeatedly put participation in the Champions League, which is in essence the continental championship of North America, on par, and oftentimes ahead, of its league season.
Salt Lake, the 2010-11 CONCACAF runner-up, opens up its second appearance in the 24-team tournament tonight at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica, against Club Sport Herediano, the Costa Rican club champion.
The match will kick off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Soccer.
Real is coming off a pair of home--pitch MLS wins, and feels like its confidence is on the rise.
“Obviously (we feel) pretty good right now,” RSL defender Nat Borchers said. “We’re coming off a couple good results here. I think we all know it’s tough though; it’s not going to be an easy place to play. The atmosphere is going to be very negative toward us.
“It’s going to be fun, a great challenge. We’re ready to get back into CONCACAF.”
This year’s edition of the Champions League features eight three-team groupings, with the winners of each group moving on to the knockout stages early next year.
Having just four matches, facing each of the other two sides at home and away, means that there is little margin for error in terms of advancing.
“I’m ready. I’m ready right now to go home and scout Herediano and do everything we can so that we are very properly prepared,” RSL boss Jason Kreis said after Saturday’s win against Vancouver. “This is a big, big deal to our club, a big, big deal to our fans, and a huge deal to everybody in the locker room.”
Salt Lake’s focus competing at a higher level internationally has been well-stated, which has allowed it attract the talent of players like Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales. Saborio has previously said that one of his reasons for choosing RSL was its desire to compete regionally and be recognized outside of the confines of the United States.
Kreis went as far as keeping a few key pieces out of his starting lineup on Saturday against Vancouver, and limited the playing time of a few others, to keep them as fresh as possible for tonight’s match.
RSL is expected to start its entire first choice 11 against Herediano, something it’s been able to do much of this season due to injuries, suspensions and other ailments.
Salt Lake flew into San Jose on Sunday, leaving Utah via charter flight to the Costa Rican capital, and underwent a short 75-minute training session on Monday in preparation.
“Our ownership has stepped up and gotten us a chartered flight, which is just huge in my opinion,” Kreis said. “Everyone should be nice and comfortable for the long flight to Costa Rica, and get some more rest … and be fully fit and focused.”
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