SANDY, Utah – You can’t blame Real Salt Lake for being in a good mood on Tuesday morning at Rio Tinto Stadium, even if snow was falling in late April.
It’s been 37 matches and over two years since RSL have tasted defeat on their home field. On Tuesday, they put in the final training session on the game field ahead of Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League second leg against Mexican champions Monterrey (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer and TeleFutura).
“Guys have been loose and relaxed and feeling confident for many, many weeks,” Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis said. “So it’s no surprise to me.”
For the second straight day, the team focused on possession and quick passing drills. RSL coaches and players continued to emphasize that it was this facet of the game that will prove the most critical against Monterrey on Wednesday.
“If we don’t keep the ball we’re going to be under it,” central defender Nat Borchers said. “I think they’re such a good possession-oriented team, that they’re going to have the ball for long periods of time. And when we win it back, we’re going to have to keep the ball for long periods of time. … We definitely have to focus on that.”
[inline_node:334955]Following practice, Kreis indicated that the 11 starters would be informed of their selection on Tuesday. However, he would not reveal the replacement for suspended captain Kyle Beckerman in holding midfield role. Many suspect it will be veteran Ned Grabavoy, though Jean Alexandre – a more natural defensive midfielder – could get the call.
Whoever is selected will be sitting squarely in the spotlight on Wednesday night, with every play to be dissected and analyzed under a microscope. And if it wasn’t difficult as is, that person will also have a lot of running to do.
“I think his work rate is difficult to duplicate," Kreis said of his captain, "and it’s difficult for you to get all players to work as hard as Kyle Beckerman. You see the level of intensity can sometimes drop because you lose the ground that that person can cover. But we do feel like we’ve got options that are capable of it.”
The starting lineup is not the only consideration for the coaching staff heading into the Champions League finale. There is also the question of penalty kicks should Wednesday’s match at Rio Tinto finish with an identical score line as the 2-2 first leg at the Estadio Tecnológico in Monterrey.
Kreis said he had already determined a list of players but will only wait until after the final whistle to determine which ones actually take the spot kicks.
“We have a good idea of who handles the penalty kicks well and who handles that type of pressure well,” Kreis said. “To be frank, our list is much larger than five and it comes down to who you think is in the moment, who looks fresh out there and who is ready for those extremely high pressure situations.”
But history doesn’t point to penalty kicks.
The last time Real Salt Lake gave up two goals at home was more than a year ago when the Seattle Sounders netted twice in a 2-2 tie at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 10, 2010. In total, RSL have conceded two goals at home on only four occasions in all competitions since opening in October 2008.
Couple that with the 37-match unbeaten streak and los Rayados have their work cut out for them.