LEHI, Utah – Real Salt Lake are in hostile territory.
The defending MLS champs are in Mexico City for Wednesday’s highly anticipated match against Cruz Azul in Group A play of the CONCACAF Champions League, seeking the first win by an MLS team in Mexico in the league’s history.
MLS teams have a combined 0-19-2 record all-time in meaningful matches, including Tuesday’s last-second loss by Columbus to Santos Laguna in Group B.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: MLSsoccer.com's CONCACAF Champions League page
“It’s a big game in Mexico City,” said veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who played in Mexico with D.C. United. “It’s going to be one of the toughest games for sure. It’s always hard when you go down there with any team.
"We’re going to go down there and try to get a point. If three points comes out of it, obviously we’re going to have some smiles on our faces.”
Rimando is also perhaps one of the players in the best position to understand the obstacles that lie ahead.
“It’s a tough environment – altitude is there, but we play in altitude here, so hopefully that’s not a factor,” Rimando said. “The referees are tough. The teams there always get up when they play in front of their fans there.
"Soccer is huge down there, and so they’re going to have a lot of support, and this is a big tournament, and so they take it serious.”
Real Salt Lake may be well positioned in this match. They should be one of the most equipped MLS teams to deal with the altitude, although Salt Lake City’s 4,300-feet elevation is a far cry from Mexico City’s 7,300 feet above sea level.
But the biggest obstacle is, inevitably, Cruz Azul, who finished as the runners-up in this tournament last year. They lost their opener to Toronto FC at BMO Field last week.
“They are going to be fired up,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “They are going to know that they need a win. Them losing to Toronto didn’t help us.”