Depth Key as RSL Tops CCL Group

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 | View Comments
SANDY, UT - JULY 31: Head coach of Real Salt Lake Jason Kreis and players wait for a game against DC United to start at an MLS soccer game against Real Salt Lake July 31, 2010 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Real Salt Lake, the defending MLS Cup champions and overall second place team during the 2010 regular season, is their depth.  RSL's big names are well known as major drivers of their recent succss;  Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio and Jamison Olave all come to mind as all-league type players.  But RSL also features "lesser" names that contribute to their overall success; these players fill defined roles, operate under the radar, and come off the bench when needed to fit perfectly into the greater team concept.  That depth and across-the-board quality are true testaments to the what Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis' have built in the Utah desert.

That depth was on display last night at Rio Tinto as Real Salt Lake accomplished something no other MLS team has done to date: winning a CONCACAF Champions League group.  Through two goals by the on-loan Paulo Jr, a 21 year-old Brazilian on the books at Miami FC, and one by rookie midfielder Collen Warner, a talented young player who has seen limited action because of RSL's aforementioned depth, the MLS champs beat Cruz Azul 3-1.  The win avenges RSL's deflating last-minute loss in Mexico City, a game they controlled until the weather and Mexican attacking verve conspired to keep them from becoming the first MLS team to win south of the border.  RSL may have lost that battle, but by winning last night's with a makeshift lineup, the managed to win the war.

“I just can’t say enough about the contributions of the players that come in,” coach Jason Kreis said. “All of them have stepped up, big-time. There’s a lot of unsung heroes there.”
Source: Salt Lake Tribune

Winning the group is a significant accomplishment; not only because it's an MLS first, but because it gives RSL the advantage of home-field for the second leg of their quarterfinal match-up.  Real Salt Lake will still have the handicap of being in pre-season when the knockout rounds come around in February, but playing at Rio Tinto for the return leg, hopefully in front of a strong crowd and in frosty weather, could be the difference between a semi-final berth and elimination.

RSL has tasks in front of them for 2010, namely the final regular season weekend with a reasonable chance at the points title and another playoff run they hope ends in a repeat as champions, but winning their CCL group means 2011 will now start with a bang.  As a flag-bearer for MLS, a league yet to make a dent in the continental competition, Real Salt Lake will have a reasonable chance to break the Mexican hold on the Champions League title.

"Winning the group the way that we did with our second team, against their absolutely first team in our stadium in front of a pretty hostile crowd says a lot about the guys we have on this team," said Johnson. "It was a lot of fun to be a part of. It was a huge accomplishment."
Source: Deseret News

The win, in front a Rio Tinto record crowd split between Cruz Azul fans and RSL supporters, extended the club's home unbeaten streak to 32 matches in all competitions.  Throughout their run across the MLS regular season and the Champions League group stage, RSL has turned their stadium into a fortress.  That confidence  in Sandy will no doubt serve them well through the playoffs and into next year's resumption of the CONCACAF competition.

Jason Kreis was forced to shuffle his lineup due to injury and needed rest for his front-line, but it hardly made a difference.  RSL's unique depth, at least for an MLS side, expressed itself in the form of the two young goal-scorers, the contributions of Raushawn McKenzie on the back line, Kyle Reynish in goal, youngster Luis Gil, Jean Alexandre, and others.  RSL appears to have a relative wealth of riches at their disposal.  At the risk of being obvious, that clearly bodes well for the future.

Real Salt Lake will shift focus away from their continental aims for the time being, putting everything the have into another successful playoff run.  They can do so content with their ground-breaking group win, an achievement possible because of their astonishing depth; it's not every day an MLS team rests their usual starters and handles a Mexican opponent.   In the interim there's a domestic title to win, but RSL should give MLS fans hope that come next February, the league will have a very real threat to bring an international title home.

"It's a step in the right direction. We won't stop here. We need to make strides to get further in the tournament come spring," said Kreis.
Source: Deseret News
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