Oh Real Salt Lake
So close yet so far away
Much more to come though
Welcome back to a new season of MLS here at the The Power Rank. This year promises much excitement with the addition of two new teams in the northwest, great friendlies against some of the top clubs in the world, but most importantly, nine matches of made in the USA soccer every week until the fall. Already the haves and have nots are starting to become clear, both in the standings and The Power Rank. There are already a few surprises, but this blog will focus on a team that is not a surprise: Real Salt Lake.
RSL has picked up where they left off from last season. They’re currently in 2nd place in the Western Conference, but first in The Power Rank. TPR doesn’t care that they’ve played 3 games less than LA and Seattle, so in a prediction that will surprise no one, expect them to be best in the west when they have the same number of matches as these other teams under their belt.
So why have Real Salt Lake played the fewest number of games of any MLS club so far? The answer is CONCACAF Champions’ League. Soccer is one of the few sports that boasts many quality leagues throughout the world, and so in each FIFA region (CONCACAF is the North American and Caribbean region) a tournament is held among qualifying clubs from each nation’s professional league. In this tournament, RSL has set a new benchmark for American soccer by being the first MLS team to win its group stage last fall.
The knock-out stages began in February, and Real Salt Lake dispatched fellow MLS side Columbus with a convincing win at Rio Tinto. Next up was Saprissa from Costa Rica. This time, RSL played the first leg at home where they built up a 2-0 advantage in a dominating performance. The next game in Costa Rica was more evenly matched, and despite the 2-1 loss, the outcome of RSL advancing on aggregate was never much in doubt. In doing so, they became the first MLS club to make it to the Champions’ League final.
The final against Mexican club Monterrey took place over the past two weeks, starting with a tie in the heat and humidity just south of the Rio Grande. Typically, Mexico is where American soccer teams go to die, but RSL came out and played aggressively, making for a very exciting and contested first half. The environment and travel took their toll in the second half, but just as it looked like Real would leave down 2-1, Javier Morales turned out an amazing individual effort to make four defenders look silly and get RSL back to the states on level terms.
Unfortunately, soccer can be a fickle sport. Real Salt Lake played much better at home in Rio Tinto, moving and possessing the ball well. They just couldn’t find the back of the net, while Monterrey was able to put one away and win the tournament. However, the achievement by RSL is significant, given the number of MLS firsts they registered in international play and the fact they were in the final until the bitter end. While they’re prohibitive favorites for winning MLS Cup this year, they’re also demonstrating the talent available on the MLS pitch to the rest of the world.