Everybody put on a pretty satisfied face afterward, but it was hard to think Real Salt Lake wasn't at least a little disappointed by managing only a scoreless draw with the Columbus Crew last night in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
After all, the Crew fielded an inexperienced lineup due to injuries and their offseason roster renovation — five guys were making their team debuts, two rookies started while defender Chad Marshall sat, and third-choice goalkeeper Ray Burse was signed only recently — and seemed to be approaching the competition far less seriously than RSL.
In other words, an away goal would have been nice, and given RSL a monstrous advantage heading home for the second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium next week. Instead, it must find a way to win that game without red-carded defenders Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran, and it has not won in its last four games dating to last season.
"We always talk about depth on our team," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "And now players have to step up."
And that hardly seems an impossible task, all things considered — though the first leg offered a classic example of how quickly things can change from what it widely expected.
RSL is riding a 33-game home unbeaten streak in all competitions, and it has beaten the Crew in all three meetings at Rio Tinto Stadium by a combined 8-1 scoreline. What's more, the team will get midfielders Collen Warner and Jean Alexandre back from yellow-card suspension for the home leg, giving coach Jason Kreis some lineup flexibility in the back half.
For example, he could use defender Robbie Russell in central defense in place of Borchers, move midfielder Will Johnson to outside back — he did that against Cruz Azul in the Champions League group stage — and slot Warner into the midfield. Or, seemingly more likely, he could just insert reserve central defender Rauwshan McKenzie for Borchers, use Russell in place of Beltran and keep everything else the same.
However he chooses to do it, RSL figures to have a fine chance to become the first Major League Soccer team to reach the tournament semifinals — especially with 12,000 to 14,000 fans expected for the game. That will represent a massive difference from the several hundred fans who braved temperatures in the 20's to watch at Crew Stadium last night.
Oh, one other difference?
Coach Kreis took a swipe at the Crew by noting that the field at Rio Tinto Stadium will be covered until the game, keeping it from becoming the rutted and slippery mess with which the players had to contend last night.
"Hopefully, we'll have better weather," he said. "Our field will be covered, so we shouldn't be affected by snow. Not sure why this field was. I was told that there was a cover, so that's a concern. We'll hopefully handle things better and create a better pitch, which in turn will create a better soccer game."
The Crew's Robert Warzycha declined to comment about that.
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