SANDY, Utah — After a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Crew at Rio Tinto Stadium to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, Real Salt Lake was decidedly confident about their potential for the remainder of the tournament.
“I think we have the team to take it all,” midfielder Andy Williams said after the match. “Not to be cocky or anything but we’ve been through a lot for the last two or three years, and we’ve got a good core group. Even if I don’t start, we have Ned, you have Collen Warner—our bench is loaded.”
Williams has room to talk. After all, his performance—a goal and two assists—fueled his team throughout the match. His youthful energy belied his 33 years, and many took notice.
“He was incredible tonight,” head coach Jason Kreis said. "Very inspired performance by him."
One surprise entry into the lineup for this match was Chris Schuler, filling in at center back for the ineligible Nat Borchers. During the week it had appeared that Rauwshan McKenzie was penciled in for that role.
“It was extremely difficult,” Kreis said of his decision to start Schuler. “It took a little bit of faith in the end. I think the rational decision was to play Rauwshan, and I was leaning that way all week. But we say over and over, what you do in the training session matters. And Rauwshan struggled a little bit in training this week, and Chris stepped forward. And so literally through the training sessions on Friday and Saturday, Chris convinced us that he needed to play.”
By all accounts, Schuler had a solid outing.
“I thought he was good,” Borchers said. “I think that his positioning was really good. I could tell that he was out there talking, and I think he held the line really well. I think it’s really important when you play against a striker like Jeff Cunningham to hold your line.”
Unlike in the first leg in Columbus, RSL came out with a lot of energy early in the match. The pressure and motion proved important for the side.
“I think it starts with the energy level,” midfielder Will Johnson said. “Right off the bat, we just jumped all over them until we got our goal. It was a fantastic night. We’ll enjoy tonight, and look forward to the semifinals.”
So do the fans in Utah. A crowd of 15,405 showed up, an impressive number considering the cold weather and early-season scheduling of the match. This match took place several weeks earlier in the year than any previous RSL match.
Commissioner Don Garber addressed this fact with the media during halftime. “The fact that I haven’t been to that many Champions League games anywhere that have had 14,000 people, and it’s in Salt Lake—one of our newer markets and a small market—just speaks for how much this club has accomplished,” commented Garber. “I’m really very pleased tonight.”