- Jason Davis 

Tonight, I get back on the CONCACAF Champions League horse despite having been bucked off in inglorious fashion just a week ago. Real Salt Lake and Columbus, as if to mock my excitement about "meaningful" competition involving MLS teams taking place three weeks before the 2011 league schedule officially begins, did nothing but run around the Crew Stadium field for 90 minutes, managing only to produce a grimace-inducing soccer-like substance that left me emotionally scarred.

The conclusion after last Tuesday's futility was easy. MLS clubs obviously needs every second of pre-season time they can get. The two American teams left  in the Champions League are clearly not ready for prime time. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that they're playing each other in this round. Give that damn horse more time to learn what the hell its doing. 

I'll get back on tonight at 10 pm Eastern with severe trepidation, obligated as I am, hesitant with my attention but dutiful to my commitment. I can't avoid looking, because this is "important" after all. One of these teams will move forward in the Champions League, carrying the flag, as dictated by their last man standing status, for both MLS as a league and America as a soccer nation. If 2011 is going to be the year one of our own finally breaks through in regional competition, and the path has never been more clear, one of these teams will need every bit of confidence they can get heading into the semifinals in two weeks. The MLS season still won't have started for them, making getting up to speed in this go round a practical imperative. 

Pray for a right thrashing with me. From whom hardly matters, unless you bleed whatever the colors of the respective clubs are called, because it's more about momentum than anything else. We imagine that Real Salt Lake are the "better" side, but with the timing of this thing playing such a large role, that judgement is best tossed aside. Better we have a rampant Columbus welcoming in Olimpia or Saprissa than to have a meek RSL, victors by a narrow margin in a even and poorly-played game tonight, doing the job. An advantage in the first leg of the next round is crucial to MLS advancement. Marvelous home record and perceived superiority or not, we shouldn't hope RSL wins just because we imagine they're more capable of doing the job. The recent evidence, last week's ugh-fest, proves they might not be ready.

Okay, so there's an alternative. A perfectly balanced, multiple goal game involving marvelous offensive soccer with few defensive blunders. That will do if it buoys the victors' spirits thanks to a late winner and shoots them off to the semis a fully functional team, no pre-season rust remaining. 

Admittedly, the chances of such a thing are slim. The percentages (which I don't seem to have in front of me) say a one-sided whipping is much more likely. 

Whatever happens, we can do without penalties. Penalties should give no one delusions of greatness. Penalties are an individual sport. Penalties are random. Penalties will do neither team any good against Honduran or Costa Rican opponents. 

I'll be up until midnight then, watching of Fox Soccer Channel until I grow sick of the announcers and Galavision thereafter, fulfilling my role as a Guy That Watches Soccer Obsessively. I'm already taking on the symptoms of sleep-deprivation just thinking about it, and I'm nervous something akin to post-traumatic stress will set in upon kickoff, but I plan to muddle through nevertheless. Perhaps someone (anyone, please) will surprise me. Maybe a week will make all the difference. There's a chance Real Salt Lake just needed to get home to be comfortable, never mind the starters they'll be missing tonight, or that Columbus' is on the verge of gelling in record-breaking fashion into a reconstituted power. Anything, in a world full of so many unknowns, is possible. 

Despite the difficult lesson I learned just last week, I find I have a mote of excitement deep within my soccer brain. It's a speck, and it bears little resemblance to that which occupied the same space last week, but it's there. 

Getting thrown again is a risk I'm willing to take. Nothing a few weeks to heal up ahead of the next round and MLS First Kick can't fix, although I reserve the right to dismount at any time. Duty only goes so far.

Let's go 3-0!

For a proper preview filled with actual facts and less rambling nonsense, go here

For quotes and things from RSL types, go here.

For the same from the Crew side, go here

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