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Sandy • Coach Jason Kreis and his players insist that nothing is in the bag for Real Salt Lake yet. History hasn't been made, celebrations haven't been planned, and the road to immortality remains treacherous.
It might be just a matter of time, though.
On the verge of what many believe would be the greatest accomplishment in the history of American soccer, RSL is enjoying almost every advantage as it heads into the long-awaited decisive leg of the CONCACAF Champions League finals against Monterrey of Mexico at sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night.
It's playing at home, where it hasn't lost in 37 games spanning nearly two years, enjoying the support of the nation's entire soccer community from the commissioner of Major League Soccer to fellow players and even fans of rival teams and seemingly feeding off the motivation provided by an intriguing backdrop of controversy and hard feelings.
"We're ready for it," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "We welcome the challenge."
Most of all, RSL has the advantage gained by having pulled out a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the two-game series last week at Monterrey.
That means all it needs to win the tournament and qualify for the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup in Japan is a victory or a low-scoring draw an attractive bet, considering the team has played 20 consecutive home games without allowing more than one goal.
"We have a good team here," Kreis said. "We have a team that's capable of hurting opponents on the offensive end, and we have a team that's capable of holding opponents to very few goal-scoring chances at our place. We play with confidence, we play with pride and we play as if we're defending our home here. I think that's the mentality that the guys have, and I'm very grateful for that."
And though veteran midfielder Kyle Beckerman will miss the game because of a controversial suspension for caution accumulation team officials feel Beckerman didn't deserve even a foul for the tackle that resulted in the crucial yellow card RSL is facing a team that's even more short-handed due to injuries and suspensions.
Forward Aldo de Nigris and defender Jesus Zavala are suspended for Monterrey, and midfielder Luis Perez is expected to miss the game with a leg injury.
Beyond that, Los Rayados are stuck in a seven-game winless streak and have annoyed RSL with some of their comments.
Coach Victor Manuel Vucetich seemed to give RSL little credit after the first-leg draw, saying it had "dirtied up the match" and that Monterrey had played the better game. Kreis later said he felt personally disrespected, and the players have vowed to let their game do the talking.
"Talk is cheap," forward Fabian Espindola told MLSSoccer.com.
Still, RSL views Monterrey as a dangerous team that it expects to play with particular aggression, knowing it needs goals to win.
Kreis acknowledged that Monterrey "did tear us apart, quite frankly" in the second half of the first leg and probably deserved the win the game.
His team strained to cope with the speed and numbers that Los Rayados sent forward, particularly from the outside flanks, and hopes to better control that in the return leg in part, by better maintaining possession.
"When you don't have the ball against this team, it can be very, very difficult to get it back," Kreis said. "And you know that you're going to be facing probably a dangerous chance at your goal every time you give the ball away cheaply. So it's just that we've got to put more emphasis on controlling the match at the right moments."
If they can, the payoff will be extraordinary.
Already, RSL has enjoyed a massive surge in media interest from around the country, and general manager Garth Lagerwey said a victory could mark a watershed moment for soccer in the United States.
"We haven't had that Lake Placid moment like the 1980 U.S. hockey team" at the Olympics, he said, "but that's the opportunity I think we have. I think we have an event of that scale that can put the world on notice that American soccer is taking another step forward."
Now, armed with almost every advantage, RSL just has to close the deal.
Real Salt Lake vs. Monterrey
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Soccer Channel, Telefutura
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
CCL records • RSL 6-2-3, Monterrey 8-0-3
All-time series • Tied, 0-0-1
Last meeting • RSL 2, Monterrey 2 (April 20)
About RSL • It's riding a 37-game unbeaten streak at home in all competitions, not having lost there in nearly two years. … Forward Alvaro Saborio leads the team with eight goals in Champions League play. … It's 7-0-3 at home without suspended midfielder Kyle Beckerman during the past two seasons. … Midfielder Ned Grabavoy is expected to start in place of Beckerman. … It can earn $500,000 if it wins the tournament and would qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan on Dec. 8-18.
About the Rayados • They're coming off a 1-1 home draw against Puebla in Mexico's Primera Division on Saturday, stretching their winless streak to seven games in all competitions. … Forward Aldo de Nigris and defender Jesus Zavala are serving yellow-card suspensions De Nigris leads the team with five goals in Champions League play and midfielder Luis Perez is expected to sit out with an injury. … Coach Victor Manuel Vucetich is unbeaten in championship finals.
Champions League scenarios
• Real Salt Lake will claim the title if it wins the game or earns a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.
• Monterrey will win the title if it wins the game or earns a draw of 3-3 or higher.
• If the teams draw 2-2, they will play a 30-minute overtime and then take penalty kicks, if necessary, to determine the winner.
Are you going to the game?
Are you going to the game?