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It's win or stay home for Real Salt Lake

Published February 28, 2011 8:56 pm

Soccer • Stakes rise in 2nd leg of Champions League quarterfinal.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Sandy • Coach Jason Kreis and his Real Salt Lake players said they were happy to have escaped the frigid first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with a draw last week.

But they won't be so thrilled if that happens again.

RSL must win its home leg of the two-game series against the Columbus Crew on Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, or waste all of the effort it has plowed for months into making a splash in the prestigious international tournament. It believes it has a good chance — it's riding a 33-game home unbeaten streak in all competitions, after all — but can't afford any miscues, especially with one of its best players suspended.

"No pressure," midfielder Will Johnson said. "We're in a good spot. We have a home game. We just have to win."

The weather is expected to be considerably warmer than it was for the first leg in Columbus — about 35 degrees and almost no wind, with no fresh snow.

Team officials expect as many as 14,000 fans, too, which could provide a needed boost to a team that in the first leg managed neither a shot on goal nor a single corner kick for the first time in its 225-game history. Players said their field is in much better condition than the rough and icy one at Crew Stadium that did no favors for their attack.

"If we're a little bit better this week, then we should get the result that we need," Kreis said.

The series is being determined by total goals, so the teams will play overtime and go to penalty kicks if neither scores Tuesday night.

Any scoring draw would send the Crew through to the tournament semifinals, though, because away goals are the first tiebreaker if the teams wind up tied on aggregate, and neither team scored in their sloppy draw in Columbus.

"We can't give up a goal," Johnson said. "That's not really an option."

Might not be so easy, though.

Although RSL set a Major League Soccer record by allowing just 20 goals last season, defenders Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran are suspended for the game because of the red cards they picked up in the first leg. The Crew's Emilio Renteria also is suspended for the same reason — he and Borchers were ejected for a second-half confrontation — but Borchers is clearly the most important of the group.

His absence means seldom-used fourth-year backup Rauwshan McKenzie probably will start in central defense for RSL, knowing he needs to replace Borchers' steady leadership and vocal communication.

Defender Robbie Russell is expected to start in place of Beltran at right back, and the Crew evidently plan on pressuring RSL even without Renteria.

"We're not going to sit back and defend," Crew coach Robert Warzycha told MLSSoccer.com.

Neither will RSL, knowing it needs to score to advance.

And if the Crew manage to break out of their Utah slump and put one on the board, RSL will need to score twice to secure a semifinal date with either Saprissa of Costa Rica or Olimpia of Honduras. The Crew are winless in their past five trips to Utah — RSL is 4-0-1 in that span — and have lost all three meetings at Rio Tinto Stadium by a combined 6-1 score.

"It's on us to get it done," RSL's Kyle Beckerman said. "We did what we wanted to do there, so it's on us now to get the win."

mcl@sltrib.com

Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus

P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy

Kickoff • 8 p.m.

TV • Fox Soccer Channel

Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM

CCL Records • RSL 4-1-2, Columbus 4-2-1

All-Time Series • Columbus leads, 8-6-2

Last Meeting • RSL 0, Columbus 0 (Feb. 22)

About RSL • It's riding a 33-game home unbeaten streak in all competitions, during which it has outscored opponents 66-17. … Forward Alvaro Saborio has scored six goals in Champions League games, but none in the last three. … Reserve midfielders Collen Warner and Jean Alexandre are available after missing the first leg with yellow-card suspensions. … It has been held scoreless at home only three times the last two years.

About the Crew • Riding a four-game losing streak in Utah, they have scored here just once in five games since a 1-0 victory on May 6, 2006. … Former RSL striker Jeff Cunningham could move into the starting lineup, along with goalkeeper William Hesmer, who missed the first leg with a shoulder injury. … Defender Chad Marshall is out with a concussion, and the Crew figure to again start several players new to the team. —

Boss of the Crew

RSL is 4-0-1 in its last five home games against the Crew:

Date Result Location

Aug. 14, 2010 RSL 1, Columbus 0 Rio Tinto Stadium

Oct. 31, 2009 RSL 1, Columbus 0 Rio Tinto Stadium

April 2, 2009 RSL 4, Columbus 1 Rio Tinto Stadium

July 12, 2008 RSL 2, Columbus 0 Rice-Eccles Stadium

April 14, 2007 RSL 0, Columbus 0 Rice-Eccles Stadium