Real Salt Lake returns to SLC with hope of making history
Real Salt Lake was dragging, drained by the exhaustive heat of Mexico as well as its three-hour return flight to Salt Lake City.
Yet, RSL, arriving with a 2-2 decision the day before in the first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League final at Monterrey, gained a brisk bracer on the tarmac by the Utah weather and nearly 100 fans who greeted the late-arriving team charter Thursday afternoon.
Now, all that stands between RSL and history a place in the FIFA Club World Cup is 90 more minutes on Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"Giant," was how Real coach Jason Kreis described the possibilities. "It's the stuff dreams are made of.
"This is a chance to represent an entire continent in Japan this winter."
A dramatic goal in the 89th minute by RSL midfielder Javier Morales not only salvaged the 2-2 draw, but also filled Salt Lake's players will hope, knowing that 20,000 fans are expected to shake Rio Tinto a place they haven't lost in 37 consecutive games.
Kreis expressed hope that the crowd would be a difference maker. He wasn't the only one.
"It will be completely different," said Joe Miera of Salt Lake City, one of the RSL supporters anxiously waiting for the upcoming second leg. "Monterrey doesn't know what they're in for. We'll be rocking."
A win or a 1-1 draw will earn Real Salt Lake a ticket to international soccer, a first not only for the team but for Major League Soccer. RSL has gone further than any MLS team has ever gone.
"We have a lot of confidence," RSL striker Alvaro Saborio said, "We got what we needed in Mexico."
As pleased with the 2-2 tie as RSL's players and coaches were, not all of the news from the game was good.
Monterrey was the aggressor for much of the second half. Salt Lake was saved several times by Nick Rimando's strong performance in goal.
Also, RSL will be without its engine in the midfield. Kyle Beckerman is ineligible to play Wednesday due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
"Devastating," was how Beckerman described his feelings at missing the match.
RSL, however, gained valuable experience last year when Beckerman missed several games. Yet, Beckerman remained positive about what might happen.
"It will be awesome," he said. "Twenty thousand fans, all in our colors, singing.
"I'll be there."
With RSL's result, MLS teams have now managed four ties in 25 games on Mexican soil. But Kreis will also gather the team to review and improve game tactics.
"There were some things we could have done better," Kreis said.
The players, however, were confident about what might be close on the horizon.
"We have to think more of ourselves than Monterrey," said Saborio, who was backed by Beckerman, who added that, "In the first half, we felt like we were the better team. We ran out of gas in the second half."
Most, though, were buoyed by the late, stunning goal that set Monterrey on its heels and RSL in the driver's seat.
"It was just great. If you could see the reaction from the guys on the bench," said RSL defender Robbie Russell of the second goal. "Now we've just got to do our thing. We can only hope the crowd will come out and with fire like we know they can.
"There are a lot of guys on the team who understands the situation. We're 90 minutes away from something [big], and that's really exciting."
O For a video of RSL fans greeting the team at the airport Thursday, visit