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Real Salt Lake entered Wednesday night's game against Major League Soccer rival Toronto FC in second place in the Western Conference standings with a franchise-record 44 points, won and stayed right there.
With the team poised to break the MLS record for consecutive home games without a defeat, RSL's run in league play remained on hold.
And the 4-1 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium in a game that did not count in any traditional sense of the MLS season actually meant more than usual, OK?
"It's big," said RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman. "We needed it."
Soccer people get this. To anyone else, trying to picture the Jazz playing the Toronto Raptors in March in a non-NBA tournament, this is weird, wild stuff.
This is all about group play in the CONCACAF Champions League. RSL coach Jason Kreis labels the whole thing bigger than the MLS Cup.
"The people in our locker room and the people in our organization are agreeing with what I think, which is we need to put emphasis in this tournament," Kreis said this week. "We're taking it very seriously. I think our guys have done a fantastic job of that."
So here's RSL, with the interminable MLS regular season down to the last five weeks, mixing in this competition with teams from all over North America and Central America.
"It's definitely a little bit different, but we're excited about it," said defender Chris Wingert.
RSL hardly exuded such an attitude early in the game, being dominated by Toronto and giving up an eighth-minute goal when Nat Borchers' pass was intercepted, leading to basically a two-on-none breakaway that left goalkeeper Nick Rimando powerless to stop Maicon Santos.
The home team recovered nicely. Andy Williams assisted two first-half goals with a corner kick and a free kick, setting up Beckerman and Jamison Olave for successful headers. Alvaro Saborio and newcomer Paulo Araujo Jr. added second-half goals with Toronto down to 10 men.
The comeback enhanced RSL's position in a tournament that for some teams started in July and will end in April. Kreis described it as "a bigger opportunity" than the team's regularly scheduled programming, a chance "to show how good we are in the entire region. … It's that simple."
RSL was missing stars Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola because of injuries, and the schedule becomes brutal. Packaged inside a period of 14 games in 56 days is the six-game, 18-day assignment that began Wednesday.
Next comes Saturday's MLS home game with Chicago, followed by a trip to Panama for a Champions League game Wednesday.
Kreis is trying to mix and match his lineups, which becomes tricky with the injuries. Or maybe easier, in a way, because there were fewer decisions to be made about resting players. RSL also lost defender Robbie Russell to a first-half concussion.
The available players managed to summon a full effort, once they got going.
"This is what you play for," said defender Chris Wingert. "When you can establish yourself in your country, which we started to do and want to continue to do, the next step is hopefully to establish yourself as one of the top teams in the region. That's our goal right now."
As of Wednesday, anyway. By Saturday afternoon, Real will be back to worrying about the MLS standings and the unbeaten streak. Then, next Wednesday, Kiss will take the stage in Sandy and RSL will be playing thousands of miles away from home.
Somehow, this all makes perfect sense.
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