LEHI, Utah — With the exception of MLS opponents Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake have had to learn about their Champions League foe the hard way. In many cases, their best exposure to their opponent has simply come from playing them, as past video may have proven out-of-date with the rapidly changing rosters of many teams in the CONCACAF region.
One player that they should be rather familiar with by now, however, is Javier Orozco, Cruz Azul’s talented striker. The Mexican international was a force during last year's Champions League, winning the Golden Boot with seven goals. Despite that, he was usually left off of the starting roster for Cruz Azul in Mexican league action.
Until now. "Chuletita" (Little Pork Chop), as he is affectionately known, has begun to see a consistent starting spot for his club in recent weeks, and even earned a call to the Mexican national team in September.
“I’ve played more minutes [this season] and I feel real happy, really confident in myself, more mature,” Orozco told MLSsoccer.com earlier this year.
All of this has to have something to do with his stellar Champions League performances this year. Going into Tuesday’s match at Real Salt Lake, he owns the lead in the Golden Boot race once again, with 10 goals. He is ahead of teammate Emmanual Villa and Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio, both on six goals.
“He is a box forward meaning he plays in advanced positions and is an excellent finisher with good ball control in tight spaces,” explained RSL GM Garth Lagerwey. “When that talent is combined with his physical strength in holding off defenders it makes him very difficult to mark and the best defense may be to deny him service.”
Four of Orozco's goals came at the expense of Real Salt Lake, when he led Cruz Azul in a come-from-behind 5-4 victory in August.
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Recently the 22-year-old Orozco was listed by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) as the No. 5 striker in the world based on his performances during the 2010 season. That puts him in exclusive company behind David Villa (Barcelona), Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan), Diego Forlán (Atlético Madrid) and countryman Javier "Chicharito" Hernández (Manchester United).
Real Salt Lake will look to do on Tuesday night what few teams have managed to do recently—keep Chuletita from finding the back of the net.