SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake have not been shy about their international ambitions.
They've gone on record many times claiming that becoming the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League and advance to the FIFA Club World Cup is their No. 1 priority this season.
Meanwhile, in Columbus, the stories have revolved around whether the roster overhaul the club experienced this offseason was enough to lead to a playoff berth. But as they showed with their performance in the first leg last week, the Crew have dreams of their own.
“This is one of our top priorities,” Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers said on Monday. “We’ve been in the Champions League for the past two years and it’s a lot of work and a lot of traveling.
“Just to be in the semifinals and act like this is a practice game for the regular season is backwards. We don’t need to talk about it and make all this hoopla in the papers. All the guys in the locker room know how important this game is.”
Real Salt Lake’s players admit there may be some extra pressure on them because of the priority they have placed on success in the continental tournament.
“[Columbus] may not have talked about it like we have, but we see the importance that I believe this cup deserves,” RSL midfielder Javier Morales said. “We feel anxious to play this game. We really want for things to go our way.”
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said that his teammates have made it very clear about how serious they are about the tournament.
[inline_node:316858]“When you put that out in the media and the papers and you put it into the guys’ heads, we want to win and we want to do everything we can," Rimando said. "So the pressure comes with that.”
Rimando previously played in the CONCACAF championship with another MLS club that he said did not share the same sense of urgency.
“Even with D.C. United when we were at this tournament, it wasn’t as important,” Rimando said. “From the [Real Salt Lake] president to our owner, to the coaches and players, this is a very important tournament and we’re not looking past it.”
While scheduling congestion proved to be a hindrance for DC in the past, RSL this year was able to clear the calendar to allow for time to prepare for a potential semifinal away leg on April 5. Also, should RSL advance to the final of the Champions League, they will have a full five days of rest ahead of the away match in that series.
But what is also proving a major motivating factor for the two MLS teams left standing is the road to the final, which is devoid of Mexican clubs.
“I think to go as far in the competition like we have, we have to take this game seriously, especially knowing what we have next,” Crew manager Robert Warzycha said. “We would be going to play against a team from Costa Rica or Honduras [in the semifinals], and there’s a good chance to go to the final.
“[Real Salt Lake] see the light, but we see the light, too.”
Make sure to download the latest episode of ExtraTime Radio, featuring Columbus Crew defender Andy Iro on the CONCACAF Champions League series and ESPN's Allen Hopkins discussing Shalrie Joseph and his role with the New England Revolution.