Sandy • Four days before the NBC Sports Network rolls out its national broadcast of two of Major League Soccer’s top clubs squaring off in Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake will host a complete stranger.
Still in the chase for the league’s Supporters’ Shield and the top spot in the Western Conference, RSL will take its foot off the gas — albeit temporarily — in its only international friendly of 2014. Upstart Mexican team Club Tijuana will face RSL for the first time ever Tuesday night in Sandy.
Real Salt Lake vs. Club TijuanaInternational friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff » Tuesday, 8 p.m.
TV » None
Radio » 700 AM
Records » RSL 10-4-9 in MLS; Club Tijuana 0-2-2 in Liga MX
Series history » First meeting
About RSL » Unbeaten in its last five league matches, RSL has also won three out of its last four outings. … Upon topping D.C. United 3-0 Saturday night at home, RSL was in first place in the West for 24 hours before Seattle’s 2-0 win over Houston vaulted the Sounders back atop the conference table. … Joao Plata scored his team-leading 10th goal of 2014 in the win against D.C. … Defender Chris Schuler scored two goals in the win and was named MLS Player of the Week in also helping earn a shutout. … Goalkeeper Nick Rimando now stands alone in the record books with the most shutouts in MLS history at 113. … Coach Jeff Cassar said Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy and Nick Rimando are out against Tijuana.
About Tijuana » After qualifying for the 2014 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, the Xolos have struggled out of the gate in Liga MX, starting 0-2-2. … The Xolos currently sit 16th out of 18 Liga MX teams. … The club won the Liguilla title over Toluca in 2012, cementing the shortest time after promotion to title-winners in Mexican history. … The club owns several young up-and-coming American players in Joe Corona, Paul Arriola, Greg Garza and Fernando Arce Jr. … Former USMNT staple Herculez Gomez left Tijuana this offseason to go on loan to Mexican-side Tigres.
Club Tijuana at Real Salt LakeTuesday, 8 p.m.
Radio » 700 AM
It isn’t Manchester United, like the L.A. Galaxy faced a few weeks back, or Arsenal, whom the New York Red Bulls recently hosted, but Tijuana’s appearance in Utah is conducive both to the Latino fans in the Beehive State and to expanding RSL’s overall reach in North America.
"I actually consider these guys pretty high profile in part because they played in [CONCACAF] Champions League and they specifically are tied to the Southern California market, a market from which we’d like to draw players," said RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey, "so if we’re able to go out and put on a competitive performance, this could potentially have long-ranging benefits to us in terms of credibility within those marketplaces."
It also proves insight into a realm the club hasn’t been able to tap into since its last CCL appearance in 2012.
Facing teams that RSL could conceivably see again in future CCL meetings provides insight into tactical alignments and gives some of the club’s younger players a glimpse into what it’s like to play against clubs they’ve never seen, Lagerwey said.
Defender Nat Borchers echoed those sentiments.
"I think it’s always good to play against teams from different leagues a few times a season because it just gives you a different look in terms of what other teams are doing and, stylistically, how they build up in their attacks," he said. "You can learn a lot from these games."
Yet the friendly catches RSL at a bit of an awkward moment.
The club is undefeated in its last five MLS matches, having won three of the last four to return to striking distance of the first-place Seattle Sounders, who face RSL on Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium with the West lead on the line.
Which leads to the major question of: Who plays?
"It’s an important exercise," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "Obviously we’re going to have a very good crowd on hand and we always want to put on a good product for our fans. It’s a good opportunity for a lot of players to show … it’s going to be a mixed team and we’re going to try to get as many people as we can minutes on the field."
Club Tijuana comes to this friendly on an appearance fee. RSL pays the club to fly to Salt Lake City, Lagerwey said, and RSL keeps the proceeds of these international friendlies, adding that the club typically makes money when these types of matches are scheduled.
It is unknown which players Tijuana will bring to Utah, but the Xolos own plenty of young American talent in Joe Corona, Paul Arriola, Greg Garza and Fernando Arce Jr. Tijuana’s start to the 2014 Liga MX season hasn’t been ideal at 0-2-2, but the quality remains. The Xolos were semifinalists in the 2014 CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
"They’re coming [Tuesday] to prove to all of MLS what they’re made of," said RSL defender Carlos Salcedo, who hails from Guadalajara.
Facing Tijuana was Lagerwey’s initial suggestion to the club despite scanning the globe for potential teams to bring to Rio Tinto Stadium.
"You go all over the world, but this is a practical matter," he said. "We are generally interested in Mexican teams. The reason for that: Champions League is a high priority for the organization, and if you don’t do it at least every two years, you lose the institutional memory of how they play because they tend to play with a different tactical alignment."
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