Kragthorpe: RSL extends monstrous home-field aura
The Purple Monster traveled 2,700 miles just to feed itself to the best home-field soccer team in the world.
As of Tuesday night's 2-0 win over Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica, Real Salt Lake's unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium now covers 35 games in all competitions and is just two months short of two years.
This exercise counted as a genuine victory, even if it is only the first leg of the Champions League semifinals. The teams will play another 90 minutes April 5 in Costa Rica.
So the question between now and then while RSL opens Major League Soccer play with two games in between is whether a two-goal edge is sufficient.
It should be good enough. Saprissa, nicknamed El Monstruo Morado (the "Purple Monster"), would be a top-tier team in MLS, but nothing more. Even having to play in La Cueva del Monstruo (the "Monster's Cave") in San Jose next month, RSL is well positioned to advance to the finals against a Mexican club.
This is getting good. Having won the 2009 MLS title, Real is hoping to make something of itself regionally in the Caribbean, North America and Central America and eventually worldwide.
It all starts at home, where Real's standards are so high that coach Jason Kreis and his players expected almost this much from themselves in this leg. The second goal was something of a bonus, but they definitely believed they should win.
"One hundred percent; that's how we feel every time we come out to this field," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Kreis thought his players let down temporarily after a strong opening 15 minutes and "lost the script a little bit," he said.
In the end, everything played out as usual on this field. Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola scored a pretty goal early in each half, with Andy Williams initiating each play. Rimando delivered the shutout, highlighted by his nice, two-handed save of Josue Martinez's hard shot in the first half. The blanking itself was critical, because away goals are weighted in this format.
So if RSL scores even once in Costa Rica, Saprissa will need four goals to win. Pressed about such attacking strategy, Kreis said wryly, "That's a good idea. I'll consider that."
Regardless of what happens on the road, Real's home dominance is remarkable. The explanation is fairly simple: This is a very good team now. In the franchise's first three seasons of play at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Real went 15-19-13 in MLS contests. Beginning in May 2009, the team is 17-0-8 in MLS regular-season games at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Counting all competitions, the total score is 72-18 during RSL's 35-game home run, including a 4-1 victory over Columbus in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals two weeks ago.
The MLS-record home unbeaten streak will be tested March 26 in Real's home opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy. That game is important, obviously. Yet the effort this organization is devoting to the Champions League tournament makes even David Beckham's return to Sandy seem less significant than usual. For the moment, Tuesday's outcome means everything to RSL, even if the result was pretty much just standard practice.
O For a photo gallery of the game, visit sltrib.com/sports