This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Lehi • Of course, Real Salt Lake's return match with Deportivo Saprissa for a place in the CONCACAF Champions League finals is important to the club's players.
It's also historically important for the Major League Soccer brand. Why else would the league chip in for a charter to take RSL to San Jose, Costa Rica? The charter will allow RSL to avoid a long layover at an airport and arrive Sunday early enough for dinner and be well rested for Monday's workout on the artificial surface.
"Based on all the support we've received … from the league and fans of the entire league, we think it's a big deal and we don't take that responsibility lightly," RSL coach Jason Kreis said.
RSL, unbeaten this season in all competitions, has already made history by becoming the first MLS team to advance to the competition's semifinals. Real Salt Lake defeated Saprissa 2-0 in the first leg. What happens next has huge implications for RSL and MLS in the region and around the world.
"There's no doubt about it," Kreis said. "Over the past couple of years its been interesting when you hear from the number of foreign players who say, 'I saw your team play on ESPN Deportes,' or some channel in their country and 'I really like how you play.' That has increased tenfold over the past couple of years, so it is important that we represent ourselves and the league really well."
RSL (4-0-1) received a mandate last year from MLS when it became apparent that the team had a strong chance to advance in the international competition. Winning the Champions League would give RSL a place in the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola scored goals at Rio Tinto Stadium against Saprissa, which will be missing two defenders and a midfielder due to an accumulation of yellow cards. Still, RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman expects Deportivo to continue its aggressive play.
"It's a matter of weathering the first storm them coming out with a lot of energy and the fans coming out behind them," Beckerman said. "We're going to try and come out with our own energy, try to get a goal early. If we can get one, it might put it out of reach for them."
RSL has been hitting the back of the net quite a bit lately, outscoring opponents 11-2, including a 4-1 MLS victory Saturday against the LA Galaxy.
Beckerman has been the key for Salt Lake's transition from defense to offense.
"It's been really fun," said Beckerman, crediting the coaching staff for creating a successful formula. "We've been trying to do things right since 2008. When we got a chance to work with these [coaches], it has really brightened our day."
Kreis has been impressed with the level of Beckerman's play.
"Kyle, for me, has been rock solid every game," Kreis said. "He's probably the only player, maybe [goalkeeper] Nick Rimando, who has played every game at a very high level."
RSL at Deportiva Saprissa
P At San Jose, Costa RicaTuesday, 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Soccer Channel