RSL head coach Jason Kreis faced a locker-room challenge during the 2009 season, the year his team took the MLS crown.
“I remember saying to myself that there are too many occasions that I have to come into the locker room and talk about things other than tactics," Kreis said. "If I have to come in and ask the guys, 'What’s the matter with you, why aren’t you motivated, why aren’t you giving a proper effort?' then we’ve got problems.”
[inline_node:332821]Kreis said that happened several times prior to the team hitting its stride — and ultimately winning MLS Cup — in 2009.
“I really felt like that year we had five or six occasions when I had to come into the locker room on a Tuesday after the game and lay down the law and say, 'This is what it means to be a part of Real Salt Lake and these are the kind of opportunities that you aren’t going to have your entire life.'”
Message received, loud and clear. Getting mentally prepared for a match has become one of RSL's strengths.
And ahead of RSL's crucial Champions League semifinal against Saprissa in San José, Costa Rica, on Tuesday (10 pm ET; Fox Soccer), Kreis said he'll not need to prepare his players mentally for the task ahead. They'll be ready to go.
This group has two other things going for it: a great deal of confidence built over positive results over the past year, and solid support coming from some surprising places.
Champions League 360: Behind the scenes with RSL in Costa Rica
As for the confidence, the most recent boost came from a strong 4-1 defeat of reigning Supporters' Shield holders the LA Galaxy two weekends ago.
“It’s special for us because we know they are one of the best teams in the league, and to beat them here at home 4-1, playing good soccer … is good for us," midfielder Javier Morales said after the recent victory. "We get confidence, and now we play an important game [against Saprissa], and we are confident.”
However, the success has been building since winning MLS Cup in 2009. Though always a good team at home — RSL have proven to be invincible at Rio Tinto Stadium over the past two years — Kreis' men are tough to beat on the road, too, losing only one regular-season match away from Rio Tinto since last April and failing to earn a point only once in the CCL so far.
[inline_node:332820]That failure, however, is the defining moment of their continental adventure: a 5-4 loss in Mexico City to Cruz Azul last August. It was a winnable match — RSL held a two-goal lead in the first half in a country where MLS teams have had zero success — but they ended up on the wrong end of the scoresheet.
Still, carrying a 2-0 advantage into Tuesday night's CCL match in Costa Rica, the experience in Mexico City is an important well to draw upon. As is the support the club has received from their fellow MLSers — and others.
“We’ve definitely felt the support around the league and the country,” said defender Chris Wingert. “A lot of time when people get in touch with us they mention it – ‘Good luck in Champions League.' I’ve gotten a couple of messages from guys overseas, former MLS guys, guys on the national team.
“Representing MLS, and the rest of the country, is a big deal.”