Real Salt Lake plays its fifth preseason match on Wednesday against the New England Revolution, but it’s perhaps the most important as the Claret-and-Cobalt prepares to face Tigres in the Quarterfinal Round of CONCACAF Champions League on February 24 in Monterrey, Mexico.
This will be the last opportunity for Head Coach Jeff Cassar to get an extended look at his probable starting lineup for the pivotal pair of Champions League matches and he is hoping to see a closer-to-finished product, although he knows that expecting the team to be in mid-season form at this stage in the year is asking a lot.
“It’s very difficult to be 90-minutes fit where we’re at right now. That’s the difficult part of going into CCL so early,” Cassar said. “But the guys need a good blowout. They need to be pushed hard and we’ve been pushing them harder than normal to get them in shape. Hopefully we’re doing some of the things we’ve been working on, being compact defensively and seeing a team performance.”
It’s still preseason, but facing off against the Revs is a good test for RSL as it gets ready for the early start to the year. New England has made three straight playoff appearances on the strength of a young group of players that has blossomed into a reliable core. Now with Gershon Koffie replacing the departed Jermaine Jones, they may lose some quality, but the continuing maturity of the group has them poised to return to the postseason for a fourth straight year.
Meanwhile, RSL is building confidence in preseason. In the last match on Sunday, Yura Movsisyan capped a good team performance by scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Seongnam FC from South Korea. Getting Movsisyan – RSL’s biggest off-season addition – into a position to score is a key for RSL as the team continues to build each match.
“I think it’s important that everybody is getting more confident and getting more fit, but especially our forwards. When they’re confident and they’re fit, they’re operating at a high level,” Cassar said. “We’re still not there yet, but we’re heading in the right direction for sure.”
While the focus is on the first matches against Tigres, RSL hasn’t lost sight of making progress with each match and each training session, choosing to focus on the immediate and improving day-by-day rather than some far-off match in the distance.
“We’re going to be watching Tigres together on video, but I also want them to be focused on the things they need to be focused on now,” Cassar said. “Until we get through with these games, we’re not going to start losing focus on what we need to do right now, which is concentrate on us.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. MT with a live stream on RSL.com.