On paper, Real Salt Lake’s 2-0 loss to Tigres UANL at Estadio Universitario was another in a long line of hard-to-swallow results for Major League Soccer clubs playing in Mexico in CONCACAF Champions League.
Since 2008 when the tournament adopted the current format, MLS clubs are just 2-21-8 in Mexico. However, RSLwas far from outplayed by their Mexican counterparts in the first leg of the Quarterfinal series and maintains the confidence that coming back to Salt Lake can help turn the tables in the matchup.
That confidence showed in spades when Head Coach Jeff Cassar was asked after the match if he thought Real Salt Lake was still alive in the series.
“Without a doubt. 100 percent,” Cassar said. “You can just look at the quality we have on our team and the chances we were able to create here. I expect that to be even more at home once we get our fans that are unbelievable behind us. To give us energy. To give us that drive. If we can get an early goal we can make this really interesting.”
That confidence is no slight on Tigres. To the contrary, Cassar went out of his way to praise the Mexican champions and their coach, Tuca Ferretti.
“It starts with their coach. He’s a fantastic coach. They have wonderful talent on their team. They have depth on the bench … They’re a very good team,” Cassar said. “I have a lot of respect for them. With that being said, we created a lot of chances tonight and showed what we are capable of. On a different night, we come out of here with a result that we wanted.”
RSL was outshot 19-12 on the night, but equaled the Tigres total with five shots on goal. Throughout the match, players were put into the right positions, but frequently the final product wasn’t there – as much a result of RSL playing its first match of 2016 while Tigres was already seven matches deep into the new season. With another week of training – in Utah for the first time this year – some of that sharpness will undoubtedly come as the team rounds into shape.
“We created some chances tonight. We feel like we can create even more back at home. We just need to finish. If we can finish them, we’ll get right back in it and anything’s possible then,” RSL midfielder and captain Kyle Beckerman said. “It was a good effort. We’re still in it. We feel like it’s only halftime. We just have to get home and get back in it.”
Now, Real Salt Lake still has more history to fight against as RSL looks to become just the third club in MLS history to advance past a team from Mexico to reach the Semifinal Round. Yet Cassar is unwavering in his optimism about his team’s chances.
“I have 100 percent confidence in my team that we can do this,” Cassar said. “Without a doubt.”